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Medford airport passenger counts sky high in October

More travelers passed through the Medford airport gates last month than any October on record.

The 59,458 passengers easily surpassed the 2007 record of 55,581, while topping last year's 54,046 figure by 10 percent.

While September's record could be attributed to Klamath Basin passengers crossing the Cascades in need of air service after commercial carriers ceased operation there, October's record was unexpected, airport Director Bern Case said.

"Usually we start dipping in October or November, other than the holidays," Case said. "I was very surprised. I was hoping to be above 55,000, and 59,000 was just fantastic."

The 10 percent year-over-year jump was the biggest since April 2010, when the airport capped a three-month surge with a 14.3 percent jump. The all-time annual passenger record of 647,471 set in 2007 seems well within reach. Through 10 months of this year, 551,826 travelers have flown in and out of Medford, more than any entire year prior to 2004. Passenger count is 2.9 percent ahead of 2013's 631,235 total, a complete turn-around from the first two months of the year, when travel was down 2.9 percent.

"One of the things that is kind of amazing is that without having another record month, we could end up having a record year," Case said. "Mother Nature or something could bite us, but barring something that's a real deterrent, we should make it."

Carolyn Hill, CEO of Travel Southern Oregon — formerly known as Southern Oregon Visitors Association — said the mild fall spurred travel throughout the region.

"We've been hearing from everywhere around Southern Oregon that it's been a robust fall travel season," Hill said. "September and October are usually considered shoulder seasons, but they were just as busy as the high season this year."

Hill suggested foreign travel may have played a role in the spiking numbers.

"One of the things we've been focusing on at Travel Southern Oregon for the past 10 years has been the development of itineraries throughout the region and getting them into the travel catalogs used by foreign tour operators."

Alaska Air Group unit Horizon Air continued to do the heavy lifting, with 32,302 passengers, jumping 13.2 percent over October 2013. Allegiant Air, based in Las Vegas, saw a 55.6 percent passenger rise, while Delta Connection rose 8.8 percent. United Express fell 5 percent.

Case attributed United Express' decline to flight cancellations because of poor visibility in the Bay Area.

"Very seldom do we go a week without a cancellation out of San Francisco," he said.

Record numbers, of course, bolster Case's argument when he looks to expand airport service with either existing operators or those looking to extend their reach.

"Success sells," he said. "When the numbers are going the other way, it's hard to get anybody to do something. It's been very positive when I've talked to current or other carriers."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.