Behind the list with Tim Edwards

Edwards is executive director of Harrisburg International Airport

Tim Stuhldreher//June 1, 2012

Behind the list with Tim Edwards

Edwards is executive director of Harrisburg International Airport

Tim Stuhldreher//June 1, 2012

In 2003, Harrisburg International Airport’s then-executive director, Fred Testa, hired Edwards as his deputy. Edwards became acting executive director in late 2006 upon Testa’s retirement and was named Testa’s successor in March 2007.

The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority has operated the Middletown facility since 1998, taking over from the state, which had acquired the former Air Force base in 1969. The present-day terminal building opened in 2004, the first U.S. terminal to open after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Edwards, who lives in the Hershey area, has one adult daughter. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, camping and fishing.


Q: About a year after you became executive director, you faced one of the worst recessions in American history.

A: We’ve had some difficult periods. We opened up the new terminal building in 2004. In 2005, of the seven airlines that were serving Harrisburg, five were in bankruptcy. … Only a couple of years later, in 2008, fuel prices spiked. The price per barrel went up to $150-plus. And then the recession hit.

So we’ve had airline bankruptcies, we’ve had fuel price spikes, we’ve had the worldwide economic recession. We’re still here.


How does a regional airport adapt to those kinds of challenges?

First of all, it’s very careful and very conservative management. But also, unfortunately, in 2009 we had to take a hard look at our financial position and our staffing levels. We laid off 20 people, about 20 percent of our workforce at the time. So we had to make some pretty deep personnel cuts in early 2009 in order to survive and continue to meet all of our obligations.


What are your plans for 2012 and going forward?

We just had our inaugural Frontier Airlines flight, our seasonal nonstop service to Denver. It’ll operate through early September, three times per week. So far the region has been very supportive of that service, and it seems like it’s going to be a success.

In addition to that, Frontier has begun nonstop service to Orlando. That will be year-round service, four times per week initially. We hope to go to daily service before the end of the year or early 2013.

We look forward to working with Frontier. We know the Orlando route has been very successful with AirTran, and we hope it will continue to be successful with Frontier.

The problem going forward is, the airline industry is always changing. Right now, the rumor is that USAirways and American Airlines are talking about merging. Any time the airlines merge, we seem to see a reduction in capacity, a reduction in seats in the market.


Tell me about your corporate and cargo services.

Cargo has been pretty stable here for some time. We do about 100 million pounds annually. It’s stayed pretty consistent for us.

So have our corporate operations. We have Hershey, Rite Aid, Select Medical. Our FBO (fixed base operator, the contractor that provides fueling, maintenance and other operational services) is Avflight.

Our major revenue generator is the passenger airline service, the commercial airlines that serve the airport on a daily basis. That brings in a lot of direct revenue in the form of landing fees and terminal building rents and gate use fees, but it also brings in large amounts of indirect revenue with regard to parking and car rental fees and concession sales.

How does a business traveler decide whether to take a flight out of Harrisburg versus driving to another airport?

We use the three-letter identifier of Harrisburg, which is MDT. MDT stands for “Middletown,” but we translate that to “Money, Distance and Time.” When you compare the airfares between Harrisburg and Baltimore and Philadelphia, and you also factor in the time it takes to drive, the distance, the parking fees, in most cases you will clearly find that HIA is not only more convenient but also is the cheaper alternative, when you add up all the costs. And if it’s not the cheaper alternative, the difference may only be $20 to $40.

There’s a cost associated with a person’s time spent driving two hours to Philadelphia and two hours back from Philadelphia — if you can make it that quickly, because often there are traffic problems. We have a travel calculator that’s on our website, flyhia.com, where you can calculate those costs.


Any final comments?

I think the airport authority has reached a point where we’re somewhat in a stable situation, as long as the airlines remain stable. We’re really looking at pulling the region together. We look at the airport as a catalyst for regional economic development. We know HIA is not just Harrisburg. It’s a regional asset. Our goal over the next few years is to bring the region together.