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Medford by air — it's a thing

The Medford airport surpassed 90,000 passengers in August, a new one-month record.

The airport has eclipsed records 34 of the past 36 months and is on target to finish 2017 with 875,000 passengers. New Federal Aviation Administration figures, released this month, showed Medford jumped 14 places from No. 149 to No. 135 for passenger activity in 2016.

While there are multiple theories about the Rogue Valley's booming commercial air travel, Gina DuQuenne, whose job is to book people for hotel stays at Neuman Hotel Group properties, suggests it boils down to accessibility and affordability with plenty to do.

"People are surprised not only about the opportunity for direct flights, but what we have to offer when they get here," DuQuenne said.

Wherever there are direct flights to Medford, the Neuman Hotel Group's senior sales manager sees potential to fill airplane seats and hotel rooms, not to mention restaurants and theaters.

"Southern Oregon is such a gem, and nobody knows about it," said DuQuenne, who frequents Las Vegas, Utah and Arizona in order to woo visitors.

"You go to Las Vegas or Sun City (Arizona) and there are so many senior communities where there are able-bodied people seeking new, and unique, experiences," she said. "Southern Oregon is unique, we have a national park and theater to go with culinary and wine experiences. People are excited to hear about it."

When American Airlines' regional American Eagle began flights to Phoenix in June, it gave DuQuenne additional options to lure visitors.

"Because we have nonstop flights coming in from so many areas, it gives people opportunity and choices," she said. "There is a perception that Oregon is all about the outdoors — hiking, biking, rafting and that type of feel. Yes, you can do those things, but we have a little something for everyone — and we have Crater Lake."

The official passenger tally was 92,040 in August, 12.2 percent more than last August's 82,049 figure. July's 89,948 passenger count was the previous best month at the airport, which is running 6.4 percent ahead of last year's record pace.

Airport Director Bern Case sees competition and stability as key factors in the string of record months, with multiple options to Los Angeles and Delta starting service to Seattle in October. Seating capacity is up 24 percent over a year ago, primarily because of United's shift to larger planes.

"We've been competitive for a market our size for quite a while," Case said. "Right now, we're having the advantage of competition to destinations where we didn't have competition."

Alaska barely maintained its market share lead last month as United continued to make inroads. Alaska filled 35,107 seats into and out of the valley, while United counted 33,608.

Alaska has been hampered by a pilot shortage much of this year, and was forced to cut back on some routes and cancel some flights.

"I think it's going to be a ferocious battle," Case said. "United was the No. 1 carrier from the beginning until Alaska came up about a decade ago. It's looking like United may come back and take it."

Travel Southern Oregon Executive Director Brad Niva said the growing number of tourists arriving by air is changing mindsets.

"We've always considered ourselves a drive market," Niva said. "But the industry has added bigger planes to the routes, fulfilling consumer needs. People want to fly, planes are full and that's a great advantage."

He said Butler Ford's fleet of 60 rental cars has been booked throughout summer.

"It works hand in hand," he said. "With the flight bump."

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

Medford by air — it's a thing