Traffic at Piedmont Triad Airport Down 21 Percent

Mar. 22--GREENSBORO -- The new lower airfares by US Airways Group Inc. at Piedmont Triad International Airport have been well-received, but it's not clear yet what effect they are having on traffic at the airport.

US Airways reduced its fares for advance purchases and walk-ups on flights to 33 U.S cities in mid-February.

"It's a little early to tell, but we are pleased with the results so far," Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for US Airways, said yesterday.

PTI officials said they hope that the new fares will help reverse the decline in passengers at the airport, which has been losing passengers to lower fares at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. PTI has also lost a number of flights as a result of flight reductions by US Airways and Delta Air Lines Inc. last year and the shutdown of Independence Air Inc. in January.

At yesterday's monthly meeting of the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority, its executive director, Ted Johnson, reported another down month.

The number of passengers using PTI dropped about 21 percent in February to 76,284, compared with 96,505 in February 2005. American Airlines, Continental and United had increases in passengers in February at the airport, but Delta and US Airways' passenger numbers were down from the same period last year.

Johnson said he is disappointed with the numbers but is still optimistic that the lower fares will eventually help attract passengers. He has not received any official word from corporate US Airways but has talked to the airline's local station staff and said he is encouraged to hear that there are more passengers on US Airways' planes.

The airline's passenger numbers at PTI were 21,719 in February, compared with 19,863 in January.

Dr. Otis E. Tillman, a member of the airport-authority board, said that PTI needs more airlines willing to lower prices to attract passengers.

Stephanie Freeman, the airport authority's marketing coordinator, said that traffic is still increasing on PTI's Web site. The highest volume is on Wednesday when local groups distribute e-mail about low fares offered by PTI's carriers.

The Web site has averaged about 900 sessions (visits to several pages within a site) a day with about 1,600 on Wednesdays since the e-mailing began in mid-December. Since the emails began listing the lower fares on Feb. 15, the Web site has averaged 1,000 sessions a day with about 1,700 on Wednesdays.

Local travel companies said that people are definitely paying attention to the lower fares.

"We're putting more people on US Airways due to that, but I wouldn't say a huge increase," said Mardy Murray, the general manager of Piedmont Travel's office in Greensboro.

Murray said that it's really hard to gauge the effect, because this is the time of the year when people start to travel.

Ricky Shore, the president of Aladdin Travel & Meeting Planners, which is based in Winston-Salem with an office in Greensboro, said he was surprised when he checked the company's customer patterns in its top 10 destinations for January and February.

Shore found that eight of the company's 10 top departures started in Greensboro in January, one in Raleigh and the other in Charlotte. In February, all of the company's top 10 departures started in Greensboro.

He said that there are general concerns in the industry that airline prices are headed up.

But, he said, "clearly Greensboro has made progress February over January."

In other business, the airport authority voted to approve a $12.2 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for PTI's new runway, for the construction and extension of taxiways, and to acquire land. The money is part of the $108 million that the FAA pledged to the airport in 2002 to pay for the FedEx hub project.