Tulsa Air Fare Rise Sub-Average

The airport ranked 61st in the percentage of price hikes in the past year. Airline fares rose 6.3 percent in Tulsa in 2005's fourth quarter compared with a year earlier, a level that's below the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Despite fuel surcharges and fare increases during the past year by a dozen airlines serving Tulsa International Airport, the rise in the cost of Tulsa air travel was 30 percent below the national average of 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the agency said Thursday.

Among the top 85 airline passenger markets in the United States, Tulsa ranked 61st in the percentage of price increases in the past year while Oklahoma City ranked 70th, with fare increases averaging 5.2 percent.

Nationally, the survey ranked Cincinnati as reporting the largest fare increases in the last year, at 26 percent. The remainder of the top five are: Greensboro/High Point, N.C., with 19 percent fare increases; Grand Rapids, Mich., 18 percent; Dayton, Ohio, 16.9 percent; and Atlanta, 16.3 percent.

Other airports in the Tulsa region, their rankings and fare increase percentages are:

11. Memphis -- 14 percent.

15. Dallas-Fort Worth -- 12.7 percent.

41. Kansas City -- 8.8 percent.

62. Little Rock -- 6.2 percent.

68. Denver -- 5.7 percent.

The statistics bureau also ranked the top 85 markets by the percentage of fare increases during the past 10 years, from the fourth quarter of 1995 to the fourth quarter of 2005.

In the 10-year survey, Tulsa ranked 36th, with average fare increases of 15.5 percent. Oklahoma City ranked 34th, with average fare increases of 18 percent since 1995.

"Prior to our economic downturn, Tulsa was a wealthier town and people were willing to pay more to fly," Mary Smith, marketing director at Tulsa International, said of the market's moderating air fares during the past few years. "In the last couple of years, airlines are sensing a point where consumers are encouraged to drive."

Nationally, three of the top five passenger markets, ranked by fare increases over the past decade, are in Hawaii: (1) Long Beach, Calif., with fare increases averaging 135.8 percent; (2) Lihue, Hawaii, 118.2 percent; (3) Kona, Hawaii, 86.7 percent; (4) Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena, Calif., 60.5 percent; and (5) Honolulu, 47.2 percent.

In the Tulsa region, the rankings were: (12) Kansas City, 30.7 percent; (27) Memphis, 20.1 percent; (49) Little Rock, 11.1 percent; (52) Dallas/Fort Worth, 10.8 percent; and (64) Denver, 7.5 percent.

Airline executives, industry analysts and airport officials said much of the fare increases of the past two or three years have been imposed because of surging jet fuel prices. High fuel prices, rising security costs and reduced demand after the 2001 terrorist attacks have cost the U.S. airline industry more than $42 billion in losses over the last five years.

The U.S. airline industry's total fuel expenses increased $10.3 billion from 2004 to 2005, wiping out any chance of an industrywide profit, said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist of the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group in Washington, D.C.

"Record crude oil prices, which are expected to average nearly $70 per barrel this summer, will hamper the industry's widespread efforts to reverse the losses that have plagued the airlines in recent years," Heimlich said in a written statement.

"These high fuel prices highlight the need for airspace modernization to mitigate fuel expenses," he said. "A modernized system could save hundreds of millions of gallons of jet fuel per year, not to mention the environmental benefits that such improved operational efficiency would produce."

The DOT survey ranked American Airlines as the largest carrier in 2005, with enplanements of 98.09 million people. Southwest Airlines ranked second, with 88.4 million enplanements; Delta Airlines was third, with 86.09 million enplanements; United Airlines, fourth, 66.7 million; and Northwest Airlines, fifth, with 56.5 million.

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