New runway spurs growth at Cleveland

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CLEVELAND -- Continental added flights to 17 new destinations from its hub here this year, an indication of the success Cleveland Hopkins Airport has enjoyed since opening a new runway and revamping its administration in the latter half of 2002.

Continental had begun scaling back its Cleveland services in 2000 because of congestion at the airport, a spokesman for the airline said. Then 9/11 led to further reductions.

However, the airport opened a 7,000-foot runway in December that gave it the ability to handle an additional 25% in capacity. Within a year, the airport expects to finish work that will extend the runway to 9,000 feet and boost the additional capacity the airport can handle to 40%.

Continental officials said the new runway, combined with demand and the availability of smaller aircraft, has returned the airline to eight of the routes it dropped and allowed for the addition of nine others.

"We're a hub-and-spoke airline, and Cleveland was lacking in the number of spoke cities," said Karen Zachary, who as Continental's managing director of route planning is responsible for new market development.

The availability of CommutAir, flying as Continental Connection with 19-seat turboprops, also made adding markets more feasible. Zachary described it as having the versatility to "right-size" the aircraft with the demand.

CommutAir is flying in 10 of the 17 markets added this year.

The additions and use of smaller aircraft means Continental is offering 249 departures on peak days, one shy of the number it offered before 2001.

Continental isn't Hopkins Airport's only success story.

The airport also has attracted service from low-fare carrier USA 3000, which started flights out of Cleveland in December.

Other airlines have not added destinations, but many of them have added flights for existing routes or increased capacity, an airport spokeswoman said.

For that, the airport credits the new runway, which allows more takeoffs and landings at the airport. By this time next year -- when the extension is completed and a precision runway monitor system is in place -- simultaneous takeoffs and landings will be possible.

The runway hasn't been the only addition at the airport.

John Mok, in charge of Cleveland's two airports (Burke Lakefront Airport is the other) as the city's Department of Port Control director, was hired in July 2002.

Mok came to the job after serving as vice president of planning for Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and has been described as the first "airport professional" to oversee the operation in more than a decade.

Mok also hired other people with extensive airport experience, including a chief financial officer, who refinanced and restructured the airport's debt, the airport spokeswoman said.

The new CFO also worked to increase the airport's nonaeronautical revenue -- with, for example, new stores and food concessions -- to lessen the financial burden on airlines. More new retail operations are expected at the airport soon.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].

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