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March 04. 2013 10:40PM

US Airways to add two flights in Manchester

MANCHESTER - Airport officials are hailing the decision by US Airways to add two new flights out of the Manchester-Boston Regional as a possible "turning point" for the airport, which has seen a significant drop in business since 2005.

Starting next month, US Airways will be offering two flights daily to Charlotte, N.C., its eastern hub. It currently offers only one flight. The airline will also be expanding daily flights to Washington, D.C. from three to four.

"The airport has been working closely with all of our airlines to try and recapture some of the lost seats we've experienced over the last decade," said Brian O'Neill, Manchester's deputy airport director. "We see this as a possible turning point. We want to help (the airlines) understand that the cuts they've made in New England impact Manchester more dramatically than other airports."

The decision comes after the announcement last month of the merger between US Airways and American Airlines, which, if approved, will result in the largest airline in the country.

O'Neill said US Airways' decision to move forward with the expanded flights will give the airport a chance to demonstrate their viability.

"We feel by having US Airways add this capacity to Manchester prior to the merger being consummated, it gives us an opportunity to work hard to prove the flights can be successful," O'Neill said.

Logan's surge

Travel out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has declined by close to 60 percent from its peak in 2005, when it had about 4.3 million passengers. About 2.5 million passengers are expected this year.

While flights out of Manchester have declined, travel out of Boston has surged, driven by low-cost carriers, particularly JetBlue, and international flights. Logan Airport beat its all-time record in 2012, with 29.3 million travelers.

At the Manchester airport, the number of carriers has dropped from seven to four, mostly because of airline mergers. Not including the new flights in April, it currently has 47 flights a day flying non-stop to 16 cities.

Manchester airport officials said they will be stepping up efforts to tout the airport's advantages. "We will be reaching out to our business partners across the region to help get the word out about this new service," Airport Director Mark Brewer said in a statement announcing the new US Airways flights. "If we are able to garner strong community support for the new service, it will strengthen our case for maintaining these additional flights, as well as increasing US Airways service in the future."

The price challenge

O'Neill said a big part of the challenge Manchester faces in competing with Logan is the fact that flights out of Boston typically cost less, because of greater competition among the airlines there.

"You've got that frugal Yankee spirit up here," he said. "People think, 'If I can save 30 to 40 bucks on a flight out of Logan, I'm going to wake up grandma and have her drive me to the city.'"

O'Neill said cost savings on a ticket out of Logan are often outweighed by the ease of getting to and from the Manchester airport, the predictability of flights leaving on time, and the affordability of parking (from $10 a day). O'Neill added that he believed prices between the two cities would level off.

"If I had a crystal ball, I would say the airlines are going to revolt against offering ultra-competitive flights in Boston and losing profits, and eventually the market is going to stabilize and we're going to see airfares between Manchester and Boston get much closer," he said.

O'Neill noted that the additional US Airways flights follow a decision by Delta to add a daily flight to its New York-LaGuardia route. The airport is also actively working to get JetBlue to bring service to Manchester, he said.

With the new flights starting April 9, US Airways will have departures from Manchester to Washington, D.C. at 6 a.m., 7:55 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., and flights to Charlotte at 2:19 p.m. and 7:59 p.m.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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