Apr. 9--The economic downturn, coupled with the loss last fall of its low-cost carrier, has taken a toll on Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport's passenger numbers for the first three months of the year.
Both enplanements and deplanements -- the industry terms for departing and arriving passengers, respectively -- were down 21 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year, according to statistics released Wednesday by the airport.
Among the factors cited for the drop were the economy, the loss of AirTran Airlines in October and other airlines cutting both the number of flights and the size of some planes.
"This time last year, we had AirTran's three daily flights to Atlanta," said Robert Uhrich, the airport's director of air service development. "We also had Continental service to Cleveland and Northwest flying to Memphis.
"When we lost all of those, it was tough."
On top of that, Uhrich said, Delta has downsized several of the planes it flies in to and out of Savannah this year.
"Our only consolation is that we have lots of company," he said. "Everyone's down right now -- unless they've added a new carrier."
Nationally, air traffic is down between 10 and 12 percent for the year, said Michael Boyd, president of The Boyd Group Inc., an aviation consulting, research and forecasting firm headquartered in Evergreen, Colo.
While he agreed that AirTran dealt Savannah a particularly tough blow when it jettisoned service here, Boyd said it wasn't the only hit Savannah has taken so far this year.
"Gulfstream has basically been torpedoed by the folks in the White House," he said. "U.S. corporations have been tacitly told 'You better not have a corporate jet.' As big as Gulfstream is in Savannah, that's bound to have an impact on air traffic numbers."
Boyd said he doesn't see high-end business aviation rebounding for several years.
"So, unfortunately, you're probably looking at something of a long-term hit."
BY THE NUMBERS
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
Jan.-March Jan.-March Variance
Passenger arrivals 226,617 178,910 -21%
Passenger departures 219,891 173,427 -21.1%
Source: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
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