Travelers Dwindle at Montgomery Regional Airport

The number of travelers using the facility has declined over the past three months.

The Mobile Regional Airport, which is served by Delta Airlines, US Airlines and three commuter services, American Eagle, Continental Express and Delta ASA/Connection, faces many of the same problems as Montgomery, said Marc Pelham, director of marketing.

Pelham said the tougher airport screening procedures that were put in place in August put a damper on flights.

"That caused an immediate drop in advanced bookings," Pelham said. "We're just now seeing bookings stretch back out. We saw it drop all over the region."

Pelham said a slowdown in the economy also is affecting air travel adversely, adding, "Ultimately, the economy drives air travel."

Pelham said the Mobile airport makes about half its revenues from car rentals and parking and a combination of landing fees and the number of people flying through the airport.

"The price of fuel has decreased, so that's encouraging," he said. "What has proved out wrong is the prediction of the hub and spoke (demise). The hub-and-spoke system is alive and well. The legacy (main-line) carriers we have here have the root structure to get you there. That is encouraging and the growth of the second-tier carriers is encouraging.

"Could things be better? Certainly. But considering the state of the industry, we can't be anything but optimistic."

Huntsville, which is a smaller city than Montgomery, is served by four main-line airlines: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways. In addition, it has service from commuter carriers American Airlink, Comair and Northwest Airlink.

The Rocket City, home to the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army's Redstone Arsenal, boasts nonstop service to Dallas, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Orlando, Fla., and Washington.

A recent study by the Boyd Group, a Colorado-based aviation consulting firm, reported major carriers are retiring the turboprops that can serve small airports profitably. The small jets that replace them have much higher costs, thereby hastening the elimination of air service at many smaller airports.

"It is highly unlikely that reducing the number of airline systems will benefit small airports, who actually need more carriers to serve them," the report stated. "Carrier combinations that result in dominance of up to 80 percent at some small airports is in no way conducive to increasing capacity or lower fares. Those whose 'studies' claim otherwise are, at best, wrong."

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