The Medford airport snapped a 10-month decline in passenger travel, notching its second-best February ever.

The Medford airport snapped a 10-month decline in passenger travel, notching its second-best February ever.

Led by increased counts on Delta Connection and Alaska Air Group's Horizon Air, 40,597 fliers passed through the gates in February, the most since 43,970 passengers used the airport in February 2008.

The actual increase was a modest 348 passengers over February 2011, and February was a day longer this year, but Airport Director Bern Case still was happy to see the trend reverse for the first time since United Express abandoned its northbound routes last February.

"It was so close that I think the extra day did make a difference," Case said. "But I remain optimistic in spite of fuel costs."

His positive outlook is supported by 18 daily departures — two more than a year ago. Analysts also project the number of seats available to outbound flyers during April will reach 874 per day, compared with 839 in April 2011.

"We get to add the (Allegiant Air) flights to Oakland this month, and next month Phoenix is back," Case said, referring to Allegiant's Mesa, Ariz., service.

"If fuel costs don't kill us and send us all into depression," Case said, "then we'll start edging our way back."

While Delta Connection was up more than 24 percent, and Horizon — the busiest carrier in the Rogue Valley — reported a 16.7 percent gain, Allegiant Air was off nearly 34 percent and United Express was down almost 8 percent.

Case frequently points out that an extra weekend boosts numbers during the shoulder months. Last March marked just the second time the Medford airport surpassed 50,000 passengers for that month. With five Fridays on the calendar this month it could add up to continued improvement.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.