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Medford airport looks to woo another airline

Airport directors never quite escape the fray, performing a delicate dance of enticing — and retaining — airlines, keeping passengers happy and obliging security folks.

Medford Airport Director Bern Case and his regional airport peers are meeting in Pasco, Washington, this week for what some in the industry refer to as speed-dating with airlines. It's a time to woo carriers and fend off competition from other airports desperate to direct traffic their way.

"There are all sorts of intricacies along the way," Case admits. "It's complex with a lot of moving pieces. It's productive, but high tension."

Medford is served by five carriers, and Case wouldn't mind six.

"We're getting to the point where we've got to find space, but we're not quite full," Case said Tuesday. "When airline schedules change, TSA needs to react. There is a ripple effect for anything we do."

This has been the best of times for the airport, which is on course to break its annual commercial passenger record for the fourth straight year. For the 35th time in 37 months, passenger records fell in September, with 81,423 passengers flowing through the gates.

Alaska Air Group's internal woes were more than offset by United and American Eagle performance last month, boosting passengers 9.4 percent over last September's 74,411 total. Through nine months, the airport saw 661,864 travelers, 6.8 percent ahead of 2016.

The airport directors meeting is the last such meeting before Case retires at the end of the year, and he is making the best of it in talking with representatives from eight airlines over two days.

"It gives us a chance to get into the minds of airlines," he said. "We can find out where the holes are when there is service to new location. If an airline is dominant in a hub, we can find out what they could do for us."

Case hopes that one carrier or another will begin routes to San Jose and San Diego.

"We've been talking to multiple carriers about those cities," he said.

One of the airlines is Alaska's Horizon Air unit, which still is the market leader despite internal woes and stepped up competition.

"They are having struggles," Case said. "They are probably doing the best they can, but the information flow is not as good as I'd like."

Some cancellations created by pilot shortages have been scheduled well in advance, he said, allowing Case to shuffle airport resources. Other times, word isn't given in advance, and TSA has more people on hand than it needs.

"We're real anxious for Alaska/Horizon to be stable," he said.

American and Delta have both added flights in recent months, picking up Alaska's slack to Los Angeles and Seattle.

United accounted for more than 27,000 passengers last month, while Alaska carried more than 32,000 paying passengers on its Portland and Seattle routes to Medford.

"What amazed me was that we were up two (daily) flights over last October, but our percentage of seats is up 40 percent; that's enormous," Case said. "Airlines don't add seats so they can lose money."

— 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.

Medford airport looks to woo another airline