September 29, 2008

Harrisburg Airport’s Options Take Flight

By Bedell, Doug

Harrisburg International Airport is becoming more international in its reach overseas.

There are still only two direct daily flights from HIA to an international destination - Toronto, Canada. But there are international connections to larger airports. And on Oct. 2, Continental Airlines will launch service from the airport in Lower Swatara Township to its hub at Newark International Airport. That will open HIA to additional one-stop destinations in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The Newark service will add to growing international travel from Harrisburg. Since 2002, HIA has had a 37 percent increase in travel to overseas destinations. In the year that ended this past March, international connections from Harrisburg were up 4.75 percent, to 77,300, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That was 6 percent of HIAs 1.2 million travelers that year.

"We're really looking forward to Continental's Newark service," said Tim Tate, chairman of the SusquehannaArea Regional Airport Authority (SARAA), HIAs operator. "Among the airlines in general, international travel is much stronger than domestic travel. By the end of the year, domestic travel will be down by double digits, but overseas travel is still growing."

The explanation for these trends, he added, appears to be less leisure travel domestically and more business travel overseas. "Business is willing to pay higher fares; there's no alternative over the oceans."

Indeed, the international travel originating at HIA reflects growing foreign business activity in Central Pennsylvania, as well as the advantages of the airport's convenient, efficiently planned terminal building, which starts its fifth year of operation Aug. 29.

From 2006 data, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber counts 218 companies in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties with 51 percent or more foreign ownership. Those companies have headquarters in more than 25 countries, including 40 in Germany alone. Dun & Bradstreet figures released this past March show 700 businesses with a minimum of 10 percent foreign ownership and 34,973 employees in those counties plus Fulton and Perry counties.

In addition, more Central Pennsylvania businesses, whether domestically or foreign-owned, are opening branches overseas. One of them, Elster Hauck, formerly the Hauck Manufacturing Co. in Cleona, Lebanon County, recently moved its operations in Nanjing, China, to a much larger building there. A trip home from Nanjing takes 24 hours, said Michael Kreiser, a Hauck sales manager.

"You're pretty beat by the time you get back," he noted. "It's great to have your vehicle, or someone to pick you up, waiting at the Harrisburg airport."

Indeed, the parking garage attached to HIAs terminal is one of the airport's stellar attractions. Jeanne Yohn of Dauphin was flying to Hungary recently on a United Airlines connection from HIA. She said she has flown out of Philadelphia and Baltimore but finds them "too much of a hassle. Not so much in leaving, but in driving home. When you land, you want to be home."

A friend traveling with her, Amy Kramer of Dillsburg, said fares from Harrisburg are sometimes higher. She said HIA can sustain a ticket differential of around $150 "when you consider the total cost of a trip - parking, gas and driving time."

Jeff Stauffer, chief operating officer for food at Stauffers of Kissel Hill, was leading eight staff members to Toronto on Air Canada to meet with Stauffers Canadian beef supplier. While Stauffers travels overseas equally through Harrisburg and Baltimore, he said, "at Harrisburg, you can drive right up to the gate, and check-in is so accessible."

David Skelton was heading for Japan on a Northwest Airlines connecting flight for Phoenix Contact USA, based in Lower Swatara Township. "I like Harrisburg because it's convenient and accessible," he said. "If the connections for what I need to do are good, I do Harrisburg."

Other area businesses, though, like Dutch-owned Giant Food Stores have no particular preference for HIA. "Our flights are based on price, convenience and duration - fewer legs are preferred," said a spokesperson for Middlesex Township-based Giant. "We look at each flight case-by-case."

Because HIA is smaller than hub airports, passenger-processing and inspection lines there typically are shorter, and the airport feels more relaxed. Recently, two Amish families brought their kids to the airport's visitors gallery to view planes taking off and landing. "A lot of the newer terminal designs do n'thave a visitors gallery," Tate said.

In fact, SARAA must continually contend with HIAs bucolic profile from the air - all that rolling farmland - in marketing the airport to airlines for overseas travel. "We continually stress how dynamic this area is," Tate said.

In the year that ended this past March, the most popular foreign destinations for HIA travelers were Cancun; Vancouver, British Colombia (where cruises to Alaska originate); Aruba; and Frankfurt.

Harrisburg International Airport is set to increase its international business.

Ty Ferrell of York heads to the security checkpoint at Harrisburg International Airport in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Aug. 6. Ferrell, district manager for Dollar General, was catching an early-morning flight to attend a corporate meeting in Tennessee.


Contributing Writer

Copyright Journal Publications Inc. Aug 29, 2008

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