George Doughty will try to persuade airlines to add larger planes, more seats or both.
Long-term trends point to a sharp decline in travel from Erie International Airport. Between 2010 and 2015, for instance, the number of passengers boarding planes in Erie fell to 89,587 from 126,778.
But in those numbers, George Dougthy, the airport's interim executive director, sees a hopeful sign that could lead to expanded flight service in Erie.
While the total number of passengers using the airport has declined, Doughty said the load factor — the percentage of filled seats — is high, meaning that most planes are nearly full.
"The really good news is that the load factors are high and that the airlines are making money," Doughty said Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Erie Regional Airport Authority. "I think that bodes well for the future of keeping what (flights) we have."
Doughty, however, doesn't think the airport should be happy with simply holding its own. He said he intends to approach the three airlines serving the airport about the possibility of adding capacity.
That could take the form of larger planes, more flights or both.
Given the high percentage seats now filled on local flights, he's hopeful that one or more airlines might take action.
"What I am (proposing) are not long shots, but they will not show up overnight," he said.
Doughty said he also plans to pursue a discount carrier such as Spirit Airlines or Allegiant Air, both of which provide low-cost direct flights, often to destinations such as Las Vegas or Orlando, Florida.
Doughty said there's a certain magic associated with direct flights to Orlando, home of Disney World.
"If you're going to Orlando, you put a plane at an airport and it fills up," he said. "There is no question it could be a successful operation."
Doughty said his top priority, however, would be the expansion of service by conventional carriers.
In other activity at the group's monthly meeting, the authority approved a $4.3 million operating budget for 2017. That figure is virtually unchanged from the airport's 2016 budget, said Sheilah Bruno, the airport's chief financial officer.
The authority also approved a $4.4 million capital budget, which includes money for four separate projects. Those projects include money for a wildlife fence along the airport runway.
Finally, members of the authority voted unanimously Wednesday to spend up to $2,500 to install a bronze plaque inside the airport terminal in memory of former airport executive director Chris Rodgers.
Rodgers died Nov. 2 at the age of 49. He had served as the airport's executive director since August 2008.
Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNMartin.