Maintaining altitude in service at Grand Junction Regional Airport

GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel—Passengers wait to board their flights near their gates at Grand Junction Regional Airport. After just a slight decrease in passengers from 2011 to 2012 during a turbulent time for the industry, airport officials would be happy to keep the service they have during 2013, the deputy director says.

For the second year in a row, commercial passenger traffic at Grand Junction Regional Airport held steady in 2012, a fact celebrated by airport operators focused on retaining service during what remains a turbulent time for the airline industry.

A total of 219,643 passengers flew out of the airport last year, about 2,400 fewer than 2011. It was the lowest total since 2008.

“We were very pleased to only see a decline of just over 1 percent as far as passenger enplanements go,” said Amy Jordan, deputy director of administration.

Jordan attributed the slight dip in passenger boardings mostly to Allegiant Airlines extending the suspension of its service between Grand Junction and Los Angeles.

Allegiant historically has put its twice-a-week flight from Grand Junction to Los Angeles on hiatus from late August until close to Thanksgiving. This year, however, the airline will keep the flight grounded until mid-May, according to Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler. That means the airport will miss out on revenue generated by spring break vacationers, Jordan said. Allegiant accounts for 300 seats flying into and out of the airport each week.

“Hopefully we can nail down a good schedule,” Jordan said of the airport and Allegiant. “One thing that is needed is consistency. If they’re going to pull the flight out and not notify us, it affects the community.”

Wheeler said it’s not uncommon for Allegiant to seasonally suspend flights throughout its system in order to cater to its largely leisure-travel customer base.

“We have the flexibility to move resources around our system where there is demand,” she said. “There are certain times of year where less people are going on vacation.”

She said a major reason why service to and from Grand Junction was suspended longer is Allegiant encountered a shortage of gate space at Los Angeles International Airport. She said the airline is in the process of resolving that issue.

All but one of the five passenger carriers experienced a decline in traffic in 2012 compared to 2011.

United Airlines remains the dominant carrier at the airport, with daily flights to Denver and Houston. It flew 86,540 passengers last year, a 6 percent decline from 2011.

U.S. Airways and its Phoenix flight ranked second with 41,937, a 26 percent jump over 2011. That followed a 15 percent increase in 2011 over 2010.

Airport officials in the past credited U.S. Airway’s 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 boost in traffic.

Jordan said while the airport and U.S. Airways didn’t conduct a cooperative marketing campaign in 2012, the airline’s airfares are reasonable — roundtrip tickets from Grand Junction to Phoenix often range from $200 to $250 — and it serves a lot of Grand Junction’s top leisure destinations, including Hawaii and South America.

“The good thing about them is their flight schedule has been consistent,” Jordan said. “For the last five years they haven’t messed with their flight times. U.S. Airways has just found the times and flights that work.”

American Eagle and its Dallas flight ranked third in boardings with 31,913, while Delta and its Salt Lake City flight ranked fourth with 30,086. Both those passenger counts were down 5 percent from 2011. Allegiant, which flies to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, ranked fifth with 23,716, an 8 percent drop.

Rental-car companies pulled in a little more than $7 million in revenue through November, which was virtually the same amount as the first 11 months of 2011. December figures weren’t yet available.

A total of 10 million pounds of freight came into the airport last year, 3 percent more than 2011. The 4.5 million pounds of freight that left the airport was off a little more than 2 percent from two years ago.

As for 2013, travelers may see some new construction at the airport but probably won’t experience any changes in service.

Jordan said officials hope to begin erecting a new office building to house airport administration. It’s the first phase of a project to replace the terminal. The airport also hopes by midsummer to complete an environmental assessment for a new primary runway that will replace the existing one.

Rental car companies are expected to build a car wash facility, according to Jordan. Most agencies currently take their vehicles off-site to clean them.

Jordan said she doesn’t anticipate the airport adding new destinations this year.

“We’re always working with airlines to explore different opportunities, but the airlines aren’t really growing a whole lot,” she said. “We’d be happy to keep the service we have.”

Jordan said the airport stands to benefit in the years to come from several airlines announcing plans to replace their 50-passenger regional jets with jets that carry between 70 and 90 passengers.


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