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Medford airport sees decline in use

Passenger activity declined for the 10th-straight month at the Medford airport in January.

The 41,926 passengers who flew in and out of the Rogue Valley last month, down 4.9 percent from a year earlier, marked the second-lowest January figure since 2007.

The downward trend was triggered by the end of northbound United Express service in February 2011 and curtailment of Allegiant's Mesa, Ariz., flights.

Despite the falling activity, 2011 was the third-best year on record for commercial airline travel in and out of the Rogue Valley.

"A lot of people went on a competitor instead, so we didn't lose everybody," airport Director Bern Case said. "Still, we're a victim of the economy. We're getting new service this spring and the economy is up a little."

Allegiant Air will begin flying twice a week to Oakland in April and resume flights to Mesa, outside of Phoenix, in May. Although there is demand for flights to Arizona, Case suggested that Allegiant was merely flying its most productive routes.

"They have a limited amount of planes," he said. "We're a good market, but some other market might be beating us out in that time period."

United Express' passenger count was down 29.1 percent in January, while Allegiant Air tailed off 34.4 percent. Delta Connection saw its count jump 24.6 percent, while Horizon Air's passenger total rose 20.7 percent.

The year-over-year comparisons should begin looking better starting with this month, Case said.

The northbound United Express flights will no longer cast a shadow on the books and February has an extra day this year.

The load factor, or percentage of seats occupied on a flight, dropped slightly for flights in and out of Medford last year.

"Pretty much the whole nation saw that," Case said. "I like to be better than that and with the things happening we're going to start edging back up. When all is said and done, I think we'll be ahead of last year."

Case pointed to the 19 daily departures from Medford versus 15 a year ago.

He said winter fog required the use of the airport's cable-attached system providing effective release, or CASPER, a cloud-seeding device, 14 times this winter. The system has worked wonders, he said, for morning flights, but when the control tower closes, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., it can't be used.

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