Feb. 17 -- After a brisk Christmas travel season, passenger counts at most of Oklahoma's commercial airports in January surpassed numbers from the previous year.
Tulsa International Airport showed the largest percent increase in January with about 4.9 percent more people boarding planes in Tulsa compared with figures from January 2005.
Airport figures show that 109,403 people took flights from the Tulsa airport in January. That's an increase of 5,128 over figures from January 2005.
"I'm optimistic," said Mary Smith, airport spokeswoman. "I think it helped that the New Year's holiday fell on a weekend."
Passenger counts at the Oklahoma City airport also showed similar growth. Last month, 125,777 people started their trips at Will Rogers World Airport. That's an increase of 3.58 percent, over figures from January 2005.
"We were projecting that we would see continued growth this year, and January turned out just as we had hoped," said Karen Carney, spokeswoman for Will Rogers World Airport.
The airport saw its traffic levels increase even though it did not have significant holiday football game traffic in January. Travel over the New Year's Eve holiday made up for that, Carney said.
Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport saw a slight dip in its total number of passengers flying out of the airport last month. Airport figures show that 3,253 people boarded planes at the Lawton airport. January's numbers were down by 35 compared with figures from January 2005. However, the number of passengers getting off planes in Lawton increased, said Barbara McNally, airport manager.
Airport tallies show that 3,878 people got off planes at the Lawton airport in January. That's up by 630 compared with numbers from January 2005.
"I was surprised to hear that," McNally said. "It might be a lot of new recruits or military people returning from the holidays."
Airports where travelers begin their trips receive between $3 and $4.50 in passenger facilities charges. These fees help pay for improvements at the airports.
Airports in Tulsa and Oklahoma City have seen steady increases in passenger counts, which is essential to attracting new air service. In 2005, both airports saw airlines add flights to popular destinations, such as Orlando, Fla., Denver and Las Vegas.
Airport officials expect travel in February to pick up as new service begins and revelers head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities. Nonstop flights on United Airlines to New Orleans begin Feb. 23 in Oklahoma City. The first flights have sold out, Carney said.
Nonstop flights to San Antonio on United Airlines are scheduled to begin March 3 from Oklahoma City and Tulsa. New United flights at both airports will be operated by United's regional carrier, Trans States Airlines.
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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.
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.
Passenger departures from Will Rogers World Airport increased by 6.3 percent last month compared with August, according to numbers compiled by the airport.