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Airport traffic up 10 percent in August

Clear skies may have played a role in a 10.2 percent passenger traffic jump at the Medford airport during August compared to the same month last year.

Last month 105,401 passengers went through the airport, surpassing the 95,719 served a year earlier.

“I can only speculate the weather had a lot to do with it. More people flying in for the wonderful festivals we have in the valley and the wonderful wine tasting,” said Jerry Brienza, airport director. “I think the smoke last year kept some people away, but it’s really hard trying to pin things down.”

Passenger numbers for August have shown steady growth in recent years, with 75,534 passengers in 2015, 82,049 in 2016, and 92,040 in 2017.

August’s increase came a month after the airport set a passenger record with 109,427 arrivals or departures at the facility during July. Passenger traffic for July was 3.28 percent over July 2018. June saw an all-time record of 107,241, which was then broken in July.

The three-month summer total was 322,069. July traditionally brings the most summer traffic, followed by June and August, Brienza said. For the first half of the year, the airport was up 9.44 percent compared to 2018 and is on pace to set another yearly record.

Departure statistics for the first half of this year show that Seattle was the top destination at 59,996, followed by Portland at 41,730 and San Francisco at 40,127.

“Most of these people would be using these as hub airports, going beyond,” said Brienza. Las Vegas and Denver rank fourth and fifth for destinations.

Arrival figures for 2018 showed more people, 56,249, coming from Los Angeles than any other location. Portland was second, suppling 42,959 arrival, while Seattle was third at 42,994.

“We just have a strong connection to Southern California, because people, once they retire, find it a little more inexpensive to live out their years here,” said Brienza. Travel by film industry personnel who maintain residences both here and in Southern California contributes significantly to the numbers, Brienza believes. “That’s going on more than you’d think.”

United had the most passengers at 36,258 during August, while Horizon was second at 32,864. Delta served 19,908, with Allegiant carrying 8,791 and American Eagle flying 7,316.

Delta saw 57 percent growth in passengers compared to August 2018. United was up three percent from last year, and Horizon dropped by two percent. Allegiant had a 24 percent gain, and American Eagle was up 4.7 percent.

Freight handling at the airport saw an increase to 648,392 pounds in August compared to 599,402 for the same month in 2018. Ameriflight, which serves UPS, handled 383,329 pounds of both incoming and outgoing items compared to 292,958 in 2018. Empire Air, which serves FedEx, handled 252,301 pounds, down from 287,005 in 2018.

A third Transportation Safety Administration security checkpoint lane design has been approved by the agency. Installation of new electrical services will need to be completed by the airport, which is hiring an electrical engineer. When that’s done, the airport will request additional equipment from the agency. The lane should be operational sometime next year, Brienza said.

Travel Medford is constructing an information kiosk off-site that will be placed near the passenger exit. Volunteers will staff the booth much of the time, and there will be information touch screens. Installation is expected this fall.

A Federal Aviation Administration grant of $1.5 million for a second passenger plane bridge has been received. The grant will cover the project in full, said Brienza. Construction bids were opened in August, and contract details are not yet finalized, but a preconstruction meeting is planned for October.

A north hangar taxi lane repaving project the includes stormwater runoff improvements has been completed. Additional improvements for general aviation facilities will be coming.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.