Southwest Grows in Albany

Southwest Airlines has grabbed a larger share of a smaller market, carrying one of every three passengers from Albany International Airport, new figures show.

Meanwhile, overall boardings continue to fall, down 6.8 percent through the first nine months of the year. In September alone, they were off 9.6 percent.

Travel agents and airport officials aren't sure what's causing the decline.

Carl Mitchell of Currier Travel in Colonie said he senses an unease among travelers that travel has gotten riskier, something that is driven home by increased scrutiny by the Transportation Security Administration at airport checkpoints. That scrutiny increased in August after British police said they had broken up a plot to destroy aircraft flying to the United States using liquid explosives.

Airport spokesman Doug Myers said high gas prices earlier this summer also may have contributed to a decline in boardings.

"We think this is temporary," he said of the drop.

Much of the loss in boardings has come from cutbacks by Commutair, which flies as Continental Connection and once had a hub here that operated dozens of daily flights. It discontinued the hub and now flies only to Buffalo and Boston.

Independence Air ended service at the beginning of the year as it shut down operations systemwide. Last year, the low-fare carrier had 4.2 percent of the Albany market.

Northwest and Delta airlines, both of which are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, also have seen a drop in market share. Other carriers, meanwhile, have shifted to smaller aircraft, reducing the number of available seats.

Nationwide, passenger boardings also are down, according to the Air Transport Association, which reported its members carried 1.4 percent fewer passengers through August than a year earlier. The steepest drop was in July, when boardings fell 3.8 percent from levels a year earlier. Myers pointed out that on the busiest routes, Albany travelers pay fares that are the sixth lowest nationwide per mile traveled.

"It's important that the airlines be competitive," he said. But with the drop in boardings, the airport also has to look at alternative sources of revenue.

Million Air, which provides fuel, maintenance and other ground support services for private aircraft at Albany, has seen more jets stopping here to refuel before heading across the Atlantic Ocean, Myers said.

And Dwight Hadley, the airport's chief financial officer, said cargo shipments also are up. He made his comments during an airport authority board meeting Oct. 10.

Southwest isn't the only one gaining market share. US Airways' market share climbed nearly 3 points to 23 percent of the market, and United had a smaller gain, up 0.8 point to 13 percent. They are now the airport's three largest carriers, together carrying seven of every 10 passengers.

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