Passenger numbers tick up at airport

Passengers arrive at Grand Junction Regional Airport recently aboard an American Eagle flight. American Eagle had slightly fewer than 15,000 enplanements last year, a 10 percent drop from the year before.

Passenger traffic at Grand Junction Regional Airport in the first six months of the year edged up slightly compared with last year, as airlines remain in a holding pattern in terms of adding seats and new destinations while waiting for the slowly recovering economy to pick up the pace.

A total of 107,613 passengers flew out of the airport through the end of June, 802 more than the 106,811 who boarded planes during the same period in 2011, an increase of less than 1 percent. Director of Aviation Rex Tippetts expects those numbers to hold steady through the end of the year.

“We’ll be level with last year. We don’t expect to be down a whole lot or up a whole lot,” he said.

Any increase in people going through the gate at the airport compared with last year as a result of six full months’ of twice-daily United Airlines flights to Houston — the new service started in May last year — was offset by United’s decision this spring to drop the number of daily flights to Denver from eight to six.

United, which merged with Continental earlier this year, accounts for nearly 39 percent of the enplanements at the airport. Between its flights to Denver and Houston, the airliner had 41,747 passengers in the first half of the year, a 1 percent increase from the first six months of last year.

US Airways ranked second with 19,949 passengers, a 27 percent surge over last year.

American Eagle and its Dallas flight ranked third with 14,996, a 10 percent decline compared with last year. Delta and its Salt Lake City flight ranked fourth with 14,199, a 9 percent drop from last year. Allegiant Airlines, with flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, ranked fifth with 10,075, which was 4 percent off from last year.

Rental-car companies pulled in $2.67 million in revenue through May, nearly 4 percent less than last year. Numbers for June were not yet available.

The outlook for the remainder of this year and into next year isn’t bright and sunny, but it doesn’t appear stormy, either — some good news for airlines that have spent the last few years contracting or struggling to maintain the same number of seats.

“For the first time in years, there was some optimism that the economy was turning around and airlines were starting to look at growth again,” Tippetts said in reference to talk amongst airline and airport executives at a conference he attended in June. “We haven’t heard that out of an airline in a long time.”

He said while airfare has crept up, it hasn’t been high enough to keep people from flying, and an anticipated spike in fuel prices never materialized.

That being said, Tippetts predicts it will be next summer at the earliest before the any of the commercial airliners that provide direct flights from Grand Junction to seven cities add any seats.

“We need to have a demand for those seats, and right now we’re kind of where we need to be in terms of load factors,” he said. “Grand Junction’s economy needs to improve substantially before we justify additional seats.”


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