September 12, 2005

Hooters Starts In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Oct. 27th Hooters Air, the airline affiliated with the international restaurant chain known for its buxom waitresses and hot wings, announced earlier this month it would begin six weekly round trips to a trio of Florida tourist destinations. Flights will be backed by more than a quarter-million dollars of federal and local subsidies to market the service and offset start-up losses, officials said Tuesday. Each flight features hospitality services from Hooters Girls, who will be hired from Northeastern Pennsylvania, and a Hooters restaurant may be close behind. Mr. Peterson said he expects to see a restaurant in Allentown or Northeastern Pennsylvania sometime next year.

Hooters’ arrival marks a high point for the local airport, which will have more flights than at any time in its history, said Todd A. Vonderheid, Luzerne County commissioner and chairman of the airport’s Bi-County Board of Commissioners. The airport’s recent run of new air service has encouraged its political leaders to lend more support.“We as elected officials have decided to make an additional investment,” he said.

The airport and counties have agreed in principle on a six-month incentive package with Hooters Air, Barry Centini said. The contract still must be signed by Hooters officials and the airport board.The airport plans to use $250,000 from a federal grant awarded last year to subsidize and market air travel from Avoca to Orlando, Fla., Mr. Centini said. Lackawanna and Luzerne counties will likely offer $30,000 to $40,000 on their own to aid the Orlando flights, he said.

In some ways, Hooters Air will fill the void left 11 months ago when the airport’s start-up charter service, Vacation Express, ceased flights to Orlando and to Myrtle Beach, S.C.Hooter’s Air will fly to Orlando, as well as Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, and hopes to add Myrtle Beach before the spring golf season, Mr. Peterson said. Vacation Express ended in September after using more than $800,000 of local aid money. An open-ended agreement committed the counties to subsidize all the service’s losses, which greatly exceeded expectations for the six-month contract.

That failed venture, though, laid groundwork for other airlines to take a chance in the market, Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert C. Cordaro said. Since the end of Vacation Express, subsidies arranged for Northwest Airlines and Hooters Air have limited the aid a money-losing airline can receive. Most airlines get some incentive money for entering a new market. Such investments in the airport help the rest of the community, Mr. Cordaro said.“We need this airport to perform as the main economic hub and the main economic engine of our new economy,” Mr. Cordaro said.

Leisure destinations in Florida have long been a top target of airport officials hunting for new local air service. “We pulled a Hooters slot machine lever and we came up with Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg,” said Mr. Centini, the airport director. “That, to me, is the jackpot.”

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