Mar. 23--What previously has been a slow month for air travel turned out to be busy for commercial airports in Oklahoma. February passenger counts at airports in Oklahoma City and Tulsa saw increases over 2005 numbers. Officials were optimistic numbers for March would be get a boost from spring break travel.
In Oklahoma City, 123,409 people boarded planes to leave Will Rogers World Airport. That's a 5.2 percent increase over numbers from last February.
"We're very pleased," said Karen Carney, airport spokeswoman. "We kind of anticipated that it might be a little slower and drop off a little bit."
Conferences for Oklahoma-based businesses brought a steady stream of people to the city. Oklahoma City-based Express Personnel Services held its annual conference here in February, drawing about 1,100 people from Express' 525 worldwide offices, said Sean Simpson, spokesman for Express Personnel.
New flights also helped pique passenger interest. Flights to New Orleans on United Airlines began in late February and were full for the first days.
For the first two months of the year, Oklahoma City's airport had 4.9 percent more people boarding flights. Traffic at Tulsa International Airport also saw numbers up in February with 105,731 people boarding planes. Passenger totals were up by 4.8 percent over February 2005's counts, according to airport figures.
"As the economy improves people start to feel more comfortable to travel on business and with their families, and that's what they're doing," said Mary Smith, spokeswoman for the Tulsa airport.
The airport continues to draw passengers from northwest Arkansas, Wichita and other parts of the state, she said.
The Lawton-Fort Sill Regional airport was the only commercial airport to see numbers decrease. In February, passenger counts at the airport were down by 5 percent compared with numbers from the same time last year. February marks the fifth consecutive month the airport has seen its passenger counts fall.
American Eagle provides the airport's only service, with six daily flights to Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The decrease contrasts with boosts the airport saw in January 2005 and February 2005, when passenger traffic increased by 12 percent and 19 percent respectively.
"Our military traffic seems to be holding steady, but leisure travel is down," said Barbara McNally, airport manager. "That might be reflective of the prices."
A round-trip flight to Dallas with an overnight stay was about $178, according to American's Web site. Lawton airport officials are meeting with other airlines in hopes of securing another carrier and causing competition in the market, McNally said. The airport has a federal grant to help it get additional jet service at the airport.
Airport officials are expecting increases in their March passenger counts. In Oklahoma City, the NCAA Wrestling Tournament, spring break and the Pre-Paid Legal conference is likely to raise passenger counts, Carney said.
"I will be surprised if it's not an exceptional month," Carney said. "Every day during spring break was busy. Generally we're just busy on Thursday or Friday of that week."
In Tulsa, colleges and primary schools are on different spring break schedules, making for two busy weeks of travel, Smith said.
"We've had some oversold flights and really high load factors," Smith said. "I think our March numbers will be really good."
Airports receive between $3 and $4.50 in passenger facilities charges for each passenger that begins a trip there. The fees help generate money to pay for airport infrastructure improvements.
In 2005, Tulsa and Oklahoma City airports saw airlines add flights to popular destinations, such as Orlando, Fla., Denver and Las Vegas.
The number of passengers getting on planes at the Oklahoma City airport for the first three months of the year increased 6.6 percent over 2005 figures for the same quarter.
A busy summer traveling season translated into heavy traffic at Oklahoma's airports in July, but high fuel prices could cool that trend in August.
The number of people traveling through Oklahoma's commercial airports slipped from peak summer levels but posted steady increases overall for the month of August.