Four Months in a Row, Traffic is Down at Green Airport

Feb. 21--Passenger totals at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick trailed off 1.6 percent last month, the fourth consecutive monthly drop, according to a report from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.

The drop-off began even as the airport was experiencing a record year in 2005.

Airport spokeswoman Patti Goldstein attributed the slowing traffic to a number of factors in the struggling airline industry -- including bankruptcies, route cancellations, the use of smaller aircraft and volatile fuel costs.

"It's indicative of what's happening industrywide," Goldstein said.

The changes have hurt traditional air carriers such as American Airlines the most, but even discounters such as Spirit Airlines have been hit.

At American Airlines, passenger traffic dropped 13 percent -- from 23,621 in January 2005 to 20,626 last month.

At Northwest, passenger traffic was off 24 percent on a month-to-month basis at Green -- falling from 19,715 in January 2005 to 15,0068 last month.

The decline was steepest at Spirit's operation in Rhode Island, dropping 47 percent in a month-to-month comparison. Spirit handled 25,097 passengers at Green in January 2005, compared with 13,296 last month.

Spirit spokeswoman Rebecca Rivera said fuel costs and a transition to more fuel-efficient Airbus jets have cut the airline's capacity.

The airline, based in Miramar, Fla., cut back the number of flights serving Green last year, dropping daily service to Detroit and 4 of its 14 trips to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., each week, she said.

Other airlines are also making changes at Green.

Last month, American Airlines said that it will stop flying its bigger jets out of Green in April as it shifts some service to the busier Dallas market.

The airline will rely on smaller jets operated by its sister carrier, American Eagle, for service from Green to Chicago.

The announcement came a day after another carrier serving the airport, Independence Air, ceased operations.

The airport's numbers are not all negative.

Passenger traffic for Southwest Airlines rose 22 percent last month, when compared with January 2005 -- rising from 139,646 to 170,551.

Southwest added a nonstop flight between Warwick and Las Vegas last November, pointed out Goldstein.

"That was a pleasant surprise," she said. "It's one of our top markets."

Spirit's performance could rise again at Green, according to company spokeswoman Rebecca Rivera.

"Once we get through with this fleet transition, we're going to re-look at the schedule," Rivera said.

Overall, 374,387 passengers used Green last month, compared with 380,622 in January 2005.

The airport finished last year on a down draft, with passenger traffic dropping in each of the last three months of the year.

December's total of 407,311 passengers, was 4.8 percent Below the December 2004 total of 427,793.

In November, 4.9 percent fewer passengers used Green than in November 2004, falling to 444,038 from 467,020.

In October, 6 percent fewer passengers used Green than in October 2004, falling to 485,761 from 516,677.

The tail-off came at the end of a record year for Green as the airport recorded a total of 5.73 million passengers last year, up 4 percent from 2004.

It may be difficult, given the state of the industry, for a repeat, though Goldstein held out hope that February traffic will finish above last year.

"This is school vacation week," she said. "In the past, [airlines] have switched out to larger aircraft to accommodate the families that are traveling."