Spokane International Airport says it expects to reach record-breaking passenger levels this year, thanks partly to carriers that serve the airport introducing nonstop service to several new markets. SIA hopes to continue that trend by landing nonstop routes to a few key cities its been eyeing for several years.
The airport is on pace to serve more passengers this year than it has in any year since 1996, says SIA spokesman Todd Woodard. Passenger levels have been rising steadily since 2004, when they reached pre-9/11 levels, but have fallen just short of the record mark until now, Woodard says. Through the first nine months of this year, nearly 2.6 million passengers passed through the airport, up 8.2 percent from the year-earlier period. SIA projects that 3.5 million passengers will pass through the airport by the end of this year, compared with about 3.2 million last year and in 1996.
This will be our busiest year in history, Woodard says. I dont see a lot of barriers in our market to growth in the future.
Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, attributes the passenger growth partly to the regions surging economy. Also, the newly expanded convention center has drawn more visitors to Spokane, as have the tourism-promotion efforts of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, he says. In addition, airlines that have added routes and a new airlines entry into the market have created more capacity to handle increased numbers of passengers.
As your economy grows, the demand for transportation services for business and leisure travel, which are critical to that growth, grow as well, Hadley says.
Woodard says part of whats fueling his optimism for the future is the addition of Express Jet to the Spokane market. Since that airline started operating at SIA in April, it has introduced five new nonstop destinations, including to the Los Angeles suburb of Ontario; Sacramento; San Diego; the Reno/Tahoe, Nev., area; and Tucson, Ariz., he says.
As an example of demand for flights to some of those cities, SIAs top four passenger growth markets for 2007 as of last March were Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Ontario, says an airport traffic quarterly report released in August.
You have a carrier like Express Jet whos looking for underserved markets and targeting places like Spokane as having some great passenger demands for markets that were difficult to get to, Woodard says.
In response to Express Jets new nonstop services, Southwest Airlines has added another nonstop flight to Oakland, and Horizon Air introduced new nonstop flights to Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego, he says. Meanwhile, Delta Airlines also has launched new nonstop service to Los Angeles.
This is a competitive issue. The airlines want to make sure they dont lose that market share so theyre responding to the challenge, Woodard says. Those nonstops will invigorate the market and the overall economic growth of the Spokane region will continue to attract additional airline service.
Greater Spokane Incorporated works with SIA through an air service marketing task force that seeks to generate more air service through Spokane. A nonstop flight to the San Francisco Bay Area has been the task forces top priority for the past few years, Hadley says. Other than direct routes to Oakland, a nonstop flight to that market hasnt been available since United Airlines stopped offering flights to San Francisco in the late 1990s, Hadley says.
San Francisco would be SIAs first choice, but its also trying to get service to San Jose, Woodard says.
San Francisco is always our No. 1 market, he says. We hear requests for that continuously in the business community.
Hadley says direct flights to the Bay Area are vital to economic development here because that market is one of the leading centers of the technology industry, he says.
Were growing and diversifying our tech-related companies, and its a critical linkage for us to be more successful in expanding existing companies and bringing new companies here, Hadley says.
Calgary, Alberta, also remains high on the task forces wish list for nonstop flights, he says. Exploration of Albertas oil sands is drawing more interest from Spokane-area businesses, and Calgary shares a media market with Spokane, so residents there receive news coverage and other programming from TV stations here, Woodard says.
Also, with the parity of the Canadian dollar, air service would be a great asset for the two communities, Woodard says.
The two other key cities to which SIA hopes to get nonstop service are Detroit and Atlanta, he says. Both cities are significant international hubs, and Atlanta serves the southeast and has a host of connections to Europe, Africa, and Central and South America.
We would like to see some additional service eastbound, to the East Coast and Europe, Woodard says.
The task force also is trying to get a nonstop flight to Cincinnati and more direct flights to Chicago, because those two cities, in addition to Detroit, have connections to points east, Hadley says.
A top priority for businesses is more competition going east and west, both to increase the number of options and to have more capacity, he says. That way we dont have to fly the wrong direction to Seattle to get a longer flight to the East Coast.
SIA also is eyeing Washington Dulles International Airport, in Dulles, Virginia, because its a growing market, Woodard says.
Additionally, SIA would like to increase the number of nonstop flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, he says. Northwest Airlines, which operates its main hub at that airport, has reduced the number of flights in its entire network during the last 18 months as part of the restructuring it has undertaken since filing for bankruptcy protection in 2005.
The airline offers nonstop flights twice a day year-round, and in the summer used to add two more flights a day. In the past couple of years, it has shortened the summer season and cut down on its flights, Woodard says. A few weeks ago, SIA officials talked with representatives of Northwest Airlines about resuming their former schedule in and out of Spokane, he says.
Hadley says the task force also has been asking Northwest to add a third flight year-round to Minneapolis.
Weve told them that our customers will fill those seats and meet that demand, Woodard says.
In the future, Woodard says escalating fuel prices will cause all air carriers to raise their air fares at some point, but he doesnt expect that passenger levels will fall significantly as a result.
SIA expects to start drawing up a plan in the first or second quarter of next year to determine what facilities it will need to expand to accommodate future growth, he says. Potential projects SIA is looking at include building a third parking garage, expanding the C Concourse, and altering Airport Drive as a result of the concourse expansion, he says. SIA also will look at how many gates it will need in the future.
SIA wont create a new master plan for another two or three years, he says. The master plan, unlike the facilities plan, addresses air-use needs rather than building needs, he says. SIA still is executing the master plan it approved in 2002, which includes an extension of the main runway. That project is scheduled to start in 2009, he says.
Contact Emily Proffitt at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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