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MailTribune.com
  • Medford airport travel sees drop during July

  • The Medford airport's 11-month run of year-over-year gains in passenger activity hit the skids in July.
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  • The Medford airport's 11-month run of year-over-year gains in passenger activity hit the skids in July.
    Commercial air travel fell nearly 6 percent, the largest year-over-year drop since December 2011, when activity fell off nearly 8 percent.
    Part of the decline was attributed to the Asiana Flight 214 crash at San Francisco that closed the airport one day and limited activity for two more, said Bern Case, Medford airport director.
    "Some of those numbers you just don't make up, because it's not like they can just switch to another day," Case said. "We knew this month was in question, because last year we had a monster July. We had Oakland service last year, too."
    " We were hoping to beat 2007 (64,286), our last record year," Case said, "but we were down a little from that, as well."
    A total of 60,938 flyers passed through the gates last month, well off the 10-year July average of 62,532. The year-to-date passenger count is 365,030, or 1 percent below the first seven months of 2012. Case said he's still projecting the 2007 record of 647,471 passengers will fall.
    "July through September was a monster quarter for us," Case said. "In the back of my mind, I know that's going to be hard to beat. I think we'll be down again in August, but down by less."
    The combination of fare increases and slow job growth are reflected in the decline, said Chuck Brook of Express Travel in Medford.
    "The economy is recovering, but not enough to the point where people don't have to be careful about what they spend," Brook said. "People are still being pretty frugal about their discretionary spending."
    Brook said there was no indication travelers were merely jumping into their cars and driving to larger airports in search of cheaper flights.
    "I do a daily search of San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Portland and Medford, where people are flying to Hawaii, and it doesn't pencil out to drive from Medford," he said. "Either coming or going you're going to have to stay in a hotel, and gas hasn't gone down a whole bunch."
    United Express activity plummeted 27.8 percent to fewer than 15,000 passengers last month. Allegiant Air tumbled 25.5 percent to 7,669 passengers.
    Alaska Air Group unit Horizon Air, the airport's biggest player, saw a 14.5 percent jump to 33,048 passengers, while Delta Connection flights to Salt Lake City were up 4.1 percent, with a head count of 7,045.
    Case said Delta is popular, but its working relationship with Alaska Air to fly passengers through Portland and Los Angeles siphons some passengers who are headed east.
    "Salt Lake City is their hub, and their other hubs are a long ways away," he said.
    Brook thinks the slump won't be prolonged.
    "I wouldn't say it's a trend," he said. "I'm not sure what the future holds, but I don't see airline prices going down either. I think we're still seeing growth in the Jackson County area as far as people traveling."
    Case said the Justice Department's move to block the pending US Airways-American Airlines merger slowed talks about resumption of flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, once handled by America West Express.
    "Philosophically I think there have been too many mergers," Case said. "But now there is uncertainty, and uncertainty is hard to deal with."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness
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