After busiest month in years, HIA plans improvements to draw customers

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – Business at Harrisburg International Airport is taking off as the airport plans to undergo several improvement projects.

The number of passengers coming and going at HIA is pretty strong right now, but the airport still struggles to convince more people to fly out of here instead of bigger hubs like Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Those who do typically agree on why.

“It’s close, it’s convenient,” Mark Lentini said. “I go to Baltimore, it’s a hassle.”

Lentini, of Enola, travels a lot for work. In his book, Philly’s no better to book.

“It could take you two hours, it could take you three-and-a-half. I’m here, I’m home in 20 minutes,” he said.

Too many people disagree with him, and airlines follow their customers.

“The airlines don’t realize how big this region really is,” HIA deputy marketing director Scott Miller said.

Three major airlines serve HIA (American, Delta, and United) and passenger numbers are strong. June was the airport’s best month in two and a half years.

“We’re kind of getting a snapshot of the future of where people want to grow,” Miller said. “Airlines know they have good businesses around here.”

But HIA serves just 40 percent of the large market demand in the region. Miller said they’re aiming to reach 50 or 60 percent. The potential is there.

Now, major projects are in the works.

A three-year, $20 million runway rehab tops the list, slated to start later this year, and a hotel is on the way next year. How that affects the numbers and the future of the airport — it’s up in the air.

“We’ve talked to Southwest,” Miller said. “The bottom line is they look at this region, but in their mind, enough people drive to Baltimore on a daily basis and don’t mind the drive. There’s no reason to serve here.”

It’s turned into a chicken-and-egg situation. To attract more flights to Harrisburg, more passengers need to use the airport, but without more flights, there’s no draw for more passengers.

Part of the problem, Miller said, is despite the size of the Midstate region, it’s not as much of a singular draw as other areas of similar size.

“Lancaster’s a great brand, Hershey’s a great brand, Gettysburg does too, Harrisburg is coming back, York’s getting stronger,” he said. “The problem, though, there are eight different brands in this region.”

Lentini will keep his convenience.

“Believe me, I fly a lot and it’s just an easy airport to go through,” he said, as HIA remains patient through steady progress in a turbulent business.

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