Norfolk Int'l Airport Flying High at Year's End

NORFOLK -- Norfolk International Airport had another record-breaking year in 2005, with 3.9 million passengers.

That's about 3 percent more traffic than 2004's 3.8 million passengers.

It's the second consecutive year the airport posted new highs in passenger counts.

"We're up. That's respectable," said Wayne Shank , deputy executive director of the airport. "But we're a little disappointed with the end-of-the-year figures -- we thought they might be better."

The airport posted the year's only drop in passenger traffic during October, November and December. Traffic dropped 4.65 percent in October, 3.68 percent in November and 5.52 percent in December from the previous year.

"It's so difficult today to make any sense of the industry," Shank said. "With all the bankruptcies and cutbacks in service, it's hard to get a handle on what's going on out there."

Nationally, traffic was up 2.5 percent , according to the Air Transport Association, a trade association for the major airlines. At Norfolk International, traffic grew 2.81 percent from 2004.

Airport officials have noticed some trends locally.

Last January , the airlines operated 105 daily flights out of Norfolk. This month, they're running 89 .

Also last January, those flights accounted for 7,750 seats daily and this year there are 1,100 fewer seats daily on average.

"One of the ways airlines make money is by reducing capacity," Shank said. "As they reduce capacity, fewer seats are available and that starts to put pressure on the cost and the price will start to go up."

Shank said he would not be surprised if some ticket prices, particularly last-minute fares, are inching up locally. W hen fares increase , discretionary travel tends to fall.

That's why it's so important to have a low-fare carrier at the airport, Shank said, to stimulate cheaper fares in competitive markets. Southwest, the low-fare giant, is doing well in Norfolk. In 2005 , it had a 3.5 percent increase in traffic over the previous year, and is pushing US Airways for the No. 2 spot despite entering the market only in late 2001.

Delta, which grew its market share locally by nearly 11 percent, remains the No. 1 carrier here.

The airport is still courting JetBlue as well. Even though JetBlue will launch service in Richmond this spring , the airline indicated it's still interested in the Norfolk market.

Airport officials also say that the airport is losing New York City-bound travelers to Newport News/ Williamsburg International Airport, where AirTran has cheaper, direct flights.

About 120,000 passengers fly AirTran out of Newport News each year to LaGuardia Airport. US Airways has Norfolk's only direct flights to LaGuardia and carries about 60,000 each year .

Overall, the Newport News airport reported a 16 percent increase in traffic in 2005 with about 1.1 million passengers. That airport is served by AirTran, Delta Connection and US Airways Express.

Norfolk's airport hosts seven major airlines: American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, United Express and US Airways. The top markets are Orlando, New York, Chicago, Washington and Atlanta.

Reach Debbie Messina at (757) 446-2588 or


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