Against increasing fares, GJ passenger traffic rises

Even in the face of rising fuel costs that are driving up airfares, commercial passenger traffic inched up in the first quarter at Grand Junction Regional Airport compared with the same time last year.

A total of 49,622 passengers flew out of the airport in January, February and March, a nearly 3 percent increase over the 48,320 who boarded planes during the same period in 2011, according to airport data.

“Any growth in this economy right now is a very good thing,” Director of Aviation Rex Tippetts said.

The increase in boardings can be attributed to United Airlines’ twice-daily service to Houston, which didn’t begin until May of last year, as well as a significant boost in traffic on US Airways flight to Phoenix.

Tippetts credited US Airways’ decision to switch from a 37-seat Dash 8 plane to a 50-seat regional jet, as well as the airport and the airline promoting one another on their websites and in social media, for the increase in traffic. He said the regional jet, which can travel up to 400 mph, cuts nearly in half the scheduled flight time between Grand Junction and Phoenix.

United, which merged with Continental, accounts for nearly 40 percent of the enplanements at the airport. Between its flights to Denver and Houston, the airliner had 18,486 passengers in the first quarter, an 11 percent increase from the first quarter of last year. Now that United and Continental have merged and are operating under United’s name, United lumps together their passenger numbers between Denver and Houston and has declined to separate them, Tippetts said.

US Airways ranked second with 9,961 passengers, a 29 percent jump over last year.

Allegiant Airlines, with flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, ranked third with 6,946 passengers, which was down 5 percent from last year. American Eagle and its Dallas flight ranked fourth with 6,629 passengers, a 10 percent drop from last year. Delta and its Salt Lake City flight ranked fifth with 6,136, a 21 percent decline from last year.

Rental-car companies pulled in $924,459 in revenue in the first two months of the year, 3 percent less than last year. February was the latest date for which data were available.

Tippetts said growth in the first quarter, however small, came as a welcome surprise given that the Airport Authority has budgeted for no growth in revenue this year. Just as it has done every year, he said American Eagle will add a third daily flight to Dallas this June after initially expressing concern about whether it would be economically feasible.

Summer airfares, meanwhile, seem “reasonable” in light of expectations they would skyrocket, and fuel prices, while high, have stabilized, Tippetts said.

How passenger traffic shakes out for the rest of the year “will have to do with what happens with the price of fuel,” he said.


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