Count of air travelers rises at SLC, reversing long trend: Merger with Northwest opens new markets

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Oct. 6--After more than a year of declining passenger numbers, the count of travelers using Salt Lake City International Airport turned upward this summer as airlines added or restored service.

June, July and August showed a promising reversal of a downward trend that began in April 2007, airport officials said Monday.

"We are encouraged by this. Hopefully it is indicative of a lasting positive trend," said airport executive director Maureen Riley.

Passenger numbers increased a slight 0.8 percent, to 1.92 million, in June, compared with the same month of 2008.

In July, the increase was 5.9 percent, jumping to 2.1 million from a year earlier. And in August, the total number of passengers rose by 3.9 percent, to 2 million.

Passenger traffic has been improving since February, when the number of travelers dropped 14.3 percent from the same month of 2008.

Although there are signals the recession is over, it is not clear the recovery is pushing passengers to travel more.

Airport officials attributed the improvements to new markets added or restored primarily by Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier in Salt Lake. Frequencies to existing markets also were improved, and service to seasonal destinations was restarted in June.

"Delta did offer more weekly departures in Salt Lake City. They were driven by the benefits of the merger with Northwest Airlines (in October 2008) as we hooked up Salt Lake City to many of

Northwest's hubs and other destinations," Delta spokesman Kent Landers said.

The Atlanta-based carrier began service to Tokyo, a Northwest hub, in June. Delta also added service to Detroit and restarted flights to Memphis, Tenn., which also are Northwest hubs.

Take-offs and landings of commercial flights at the SLC airport rose by 2.1 percent in July and by the same percentage in August, compared with the same months in 2008. Operations had been decreasing since April 2008.

Delta's new direct flight to Tokyo carried 14,000 passengers in June and again in July. August figures weren't reported.

Delta will suspend flights to Tokyo between Oct. 1 and May 14. It blamed the weak economy and fears about the H1N1 swine flu virus.

Despite a decline in passenger numbers during the first three months of this year, travel at the Salt Lake airport continued to hold up, compared with other big airports.

Of the top 50 U.S. airports, Salt Lake City ranked No. 7, with a 3.4 percent decrease in passengers.

pbeebe@sltrib.com

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