Inauguration of new air service Thursday at Akron-Canton Airport is the latest in a string of similar events there.
That it may be the last event for a while also is the latest indicator of airlines' nationwide belt-tightening.
The Thursday event marked the commencement of seasonal nonstop service to Ft. Myers, Fla. Airport director Fred Krum said the AirTran-owned Boeing 717 was four passengers shy of its 117 capacity.
Krum, who was among the passengers on the maiden flight, has amplified Akron-Canton's role in regional air travel with the introduction and expansion of flights by low-cost air carriers such as AirTran.
Under Krum and marketing director Kristie Van Auken, the airport posted a record 1,430,000 passengers in 2005, a 6 percent rise and the fourth consecutive year of improvement.
But Krum said he doubts that 2006 will see the flurry of new flights and airlines that Akron-Canton unveiled last year, because fuel costs, currently $60 a barrel, have the airlines slashing costs more vigorously than ever.
One response, nationwide, is for the airlines to try to fly the same number of passengers with fewer seats by scaling back the size or frequency of flights. Krum said the airlines have cut back the number of seats - a measurement of airline inventory - at many of the biggest, busiest airports. Cincinnati has seen a 36 percent decline - in seats, not passengers - when January 2005 and 2006 are compared. Cleveland is down 4.7 percent and Akron, despite its increased traffic in the past year, is down 1.2 percent.
Krum said the number of seats serving Richmond, Va., and the Florida cities of Ft. Myers, Orlando and Sarasota are up because of booming passenger demand. He got the numbers from OAG, a company that tracks airline and travel industry trends and statistics.
"We're not necessarily looking at new destinations in 2006," Krum said. "But this is not gloom and doom. We are looking at 2 percent growth [in passenger volume]."
Akron-Canton's terminal expansion, to 180,000 square feet, is to be completed this spring. The airport sits on 3,000 acres and has about 48 flights a day. It's 1.4 million in 2005 passengers amounted to less than 15 percent of Cleveland Hopkins' nearly 12 million.
Cleveland Hopkins has 400 daily flights and occupies 2,000 acres. However, there is good news for Cleveland. The city and Continental Airlines have signed an agreement that commits the airline to the city for a decade to come.
Then Mayor Jane Campbell announced a memorandum of understanding more than a year ago, but the agreement was not formally signed until late in 2005. Television news treated that as a sign that Continental could leave. Cleveland is one of three domestic hubs for the Houston-based airline, which accounts for 60 percent of the flights here. The city felt a significant loss more than two decades ago when United began to dismantle its longtime hub here. Continental filled the void in 1987.
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AirTran Airways and Akron-Canton Airport celebrated the debut of nonstop service to Las Vegas with a casinolike party today.
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