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Medford's airport serves record 456,796 passengers

More passengers than ever before passed through Medford's airport in 1999, but the growth spurt is leveling off.

Airport officials say 456,796 passengers were served last year, up from 453,806 in 1998. That's an increase of just 0.66 percent, compared with the 3.5 percent growth from 1997 to 1998 and the 16.1 increase from 1996 to 1997.

Bern Case, director of Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, said the modest growth is solid when you consider that passenger traffic at some competing airports -- such as Eugene's -- actually fell. He says big growth swings are tied to big changes in service; the jump from 1996 to 1997 was tied to the arrival of Shuttle by United service.

Case expects services added late in 1999 to fuel 5 to 6 percent growth in 2000 -- specifically, the addition of direct flights to Los Angeles and the increased number of flights to Seattle. Also, the runway extension is scheduled for completion this fall.

The extension has made for a difficult winter at the airport: approach runway lights had to be temporarily removed -- reducing the number of planes landing when it's foggy. That played a role in the cancellation of flights around the Christmas holiday.

Despite that, the airport had its best December ever: 36,910 passengers passed through the airport;36,733 came through the December before.

The counts reflect arriving and departing passengers. For example, a person flying to and from Portland would count as two passengers served.