by Dave Gardner
A new business-oriented connection to the Steel City was launched at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport by Regional Sky, an air carrier headquartered in NEPA that has offered charter flights since 1999 under the name Public Charters.
The new air runs, according to Carl Beardsley Jr., airport executive director, feature two corporate-style daily flights on weekdays from Avoca to the expansive Pittsburgh International Airport. The connection was established to capitalize on the demand for quick transportation to and from Pittsburgh because of increased business travel.
Beardsley confirmed the airport’s management had been receiving questions about the possibility of direct flights to Pittsburgh, which was formerly a key hub within the USAir system. With the evolution of commerce, Pittsburgh became an origin and destination market. It houses key business interests, such as PNC Bank and Cabot Oil and Gas, along with other support businesses working within NEPA’s Marcellus Shale region, where vast amounts of natural gas are withdrawn.
“We’re reaching out to the business community and the travel agents to promote these new runs to Pittsburgh, and we fully understand that it will take time for this alternative transportation to fully catch on,” Beardsley said. “Business people can now go in the morning to Pittsburgh and return on the same day, and there is a strong market for this.”
Regional Sky is in some ways a niche airline. It bills itself as a carrier that “focuses on markets that are underserved by major airlines’ scheduled services,” with convenience, amenities and pricing that is “competitive with the major airlines.”
Jim Gallagher, CEO and president of Regional Sky, emphasized corporate transportation to Pittsburgh, which formerly involved a difficult five-hour drive, can now be accomplished within one hour. Regional Sky is using seven-seat Piper Charter Series aircraft for the run, one of which can climb to an altitude of 27,000 feet, guaranteeing a smooth ride.
“We took our airline charter certification and got it upgraded to allow all of this to become possible,” said Gallagher, a long-time veteran employee of the airline business. “The new flights are truly corporate-style in nature, and also an indication of the number of business connections that now exist between Pittsburgh and NEPA.”Ongoing evolution
Change and expansion have been the norm since the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport officially opened in 1947. The 900-plus acre facility, which began with carriers such as Colonial Airlines and American Airlines, is now the fifth largest airport in Pennsylvania when measured by the number of passengers boarding flights. It operates two asphalt runways.
The airport achieved international status in 1975 when cargo flights to Canada kicked off. An $80 million terminal with jetways and a multi-level parking garage opened in 2006. A new control tower began operation in 2012.
More recently, the airport’s management relocated the crucial security screen checkpoint to the top of the escalators in the spacious terminal building. According to Beardsley, the revised security system is brighter and faster than the old location adjacent to the boarding gates.
“This a very welcoming space, where passengers can now pass through security and enjoy a coffee and bagel or donut without feeling that they are in an overbearing area,” said Beardsley.
He added the airport’s old terminal was demolished and the space is being replaced by an overflow parking area, which will accommodate about 100 vehicles.
The popular air show, which consistently drew large crowds of aviation enthusiasts, will return next spring.