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Medford airport numbers break record

Medford air passenger traffic not only topped the half-million mark for the first time last year, but surpassed the previous year by more than 50,000 passengers.

The airport staff released final 2004 numbers Friday, ringing up another 44,555 airborne customers in December for a total of 532,194. Those numbers are 7 percent higher for the month than the 41,619 passengers passing through the gates last December and 10.4 percent ahead of 2003's 481,990 total.

The county-owned airport is poised to begin construction of a new &

36;35 million terminal this year; apparently just in time.

We are very excited about these numbers, airport director Bern Case said, Although it's produced some challenges for parking and terminal congestion, it's a great indicator we are ready for a new terminal.

He says the four-year project will double the airport's passenger capacity.

— The terminal will be expandable and take us to at least a million total passengers, Case said.

The record 2004 numbers could well go by the wayside with a fourth regional carrier beginning service in March.

Delta Connection announced last month it would begin two daily flights from Medford to Salt Lake City. The new flights were among 58 to be introduced.

SkyWest, the regional airline that provides both existing United Express service and newcomer Delta Connection, will boost its baggage handlers, counter staff and ground crew to 32, an increase of about 20 percent, says Alison Gemmell, SkyWest market and communications director.

United Express' ticket counter will slide north a few feet with Delta Connection taking a spot next to Horizon Air. America West Express also serves Medford.

SkyWest has dual United Express and Delta Connection operations in at least eight other markets, in which it is the primary provider.

Delta benefits because we already have personnel in Medford and we don't have to hire new staff, says Steve Hart, SkyWest's market development director.

Delta leases seven SkyWest airplanes that have been based at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. When Delta decided to close its hub, it shifted planes to Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City got more than its fair share of planes, Hart said. But to us that's better than Delta telling us they're closing the Dallas hub and they're not going to fly our planes any more.

Medford is served by 28 departures and arrivals daily. The airport has registered 13 straight months of record passenger travel, surpassing the consecutive series between October 1999 and May 2001.

While Medford was served by United, Horizon, Fun Jet Express and Reno Air for a brief period in 1995, the latter two faded quickly into history.

This is the first time we've ever had four airlines at the same time, Case said. We have name-brand, solid airlines.

A United Express plane lands at Medford?s airport in this file photograph. The airport continues to see record passenger numbers and a new record might be set this year with the addition of more flights. MT file photo