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Free parking, Spirit's fares boost Arnold Palmer Regional Airport

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:25 p.m.

Barbara and Bob Brady wheeled their suitcases out of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe after a recent trip from Dallas and said they would likely use the small airport again.

“Parking is one reason, because it's free,” said Barbara Brady, 73, of Sewickley Township, Westmoreland County. “And the cheap fare and the nonstop flight.”

Since Spirit airline began commercial flights out of the airport in 2011, the number of passengers is on track to nearly quadruple this year, fueling evidence that small airports aren't just for do-it-yourself pilots.

Through November, the airport has had 227,580 passengers, up from 64,013 passengers in 2011, said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority.

“It's the price, the free parking and direct flights,” Monzo said. “People are looking for the biggest bang for their buck. I think some people are surprised. It's not a huge airport, but it's very efficient. But some people still think we're flying to Florida on a Cessna.”

The airport hosts Cessnas, other small aircraft and private charter planes — accounting for many of the 30,000 annual flights — but Spirit flies two models of an Airbus jet that seat 145 and 175 passengers.

The nonstop destinations include Dallas, Myrtle Beach, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Pittsburgh International in Moon hosted 8.04 million passengers and 139,217 flights in 2012.

While Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin doesn't host commercial passengers, the small facility accommodates more than 60,000 flights annually, including corporate jets, small aircraft and charter jets.

Users there say its convenience is key.

PNC spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said the company houses its corporate aircraft at the Allegheny County Airport.

“It's very convenient to our Downtown headquarters,” Zwiebel said. “Convenience for us is the biggest factor.”

Voyager Jet Center is one of two fixed-base operators, or FBOs, at Allegheny County Airport that operate their own mini-terminal. A spokeswoman at Voyager said its customers value their time and convenience; there are no commercial flights at the airport and there is no congestion or delays from competition with commercial carriers. Customers can drive their cars near the planes, board and take off within minutes.

Allegheny County Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said agreements prohibit commercial service at the airport in West Mifflin and safety and security issues would make it too costly.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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