Jan. 15--DAYTONA BEACH -- After Sept. 11, 2001, the Daytona Beach International Airport was at its lowest point since the early 1980s.
There were only six domestic flights a day, shops inside the terminal were forced to close, and there were concerns about the future of the county-owned airport.
Now, almost five years later, passenger traffic is picking up as the airport tries to shed its reputation as a spoke in the hub and spoke system of air travel. Next month, airport officials hope to add more passengers by introducing nonstop flights to some new destinations.
With only one domestic terminal, one international terminal and an annual budget of about $50 million, airport officials acknowledge that they cannot match Orlando International Airport for low fares or scope of service. But the Daytona Beach airport, which has had commercial flights since 1930, does offer some features that officials hope will draw passengers away from the bigger airports.
The day of the Sept. 11 attacks, Continental announced it was pulling out of Daytona after 13 years. Continental had one flight a day to their hub in Newark, N.J., and a seasonal, weekend flight to Cleveland. The airline left Daytona because of cutbacks across the industry, airport officials said.
That left the airport with six flights a day, three 50-seat regional jets and three 142-seat jets. All of the flights were to Delta's hub in Atlanta.
"There was a lot of speculation about what was going to happen," said Steve Cooke, the airport's director of business development. "People were asking, 'is the airport going to go out of business?' "
As people started returning to flight nationwide, Daytona officials knew they needed to start serving centers like the one in Newark, N.J. again, but they had a harder time than major airports building their service back up. With only flights to hubs, passengers who live in the Daytona Beach area are more likely to go to larger facilities for nonstop flights.
"Daytona Beach, unlike Orlando, is not strategic," Cooke said. "We have to basically earn our wings every day financially or they are not going to be here. Orlando is different. If I am major carrier or a low-fare guy and I am having service to Florida, I have to go to Orlando. I can't say I am a major carrier if I don't serve Orlando. If doesn't matter if I make money or not. We don't have that luxury."
In 2002, Continental executives said that if they resumed service from Daytona Beach to Newark, N.J., they would lose $743,333 a year.
With the help of U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, the airport and Continental signed a one-year deal in December 2002 that called for the airline to resume service and use a $908,333 federal grant to cover their losses and pay for marketing.
When the agreement expired, Continental decided that its service in Daytona was viable and extended their agreement. Today, Continental has two nonstop flights a day to Newark.
"Without a doubt, our subsidizing of them is what brought them back," Cooke said.
The subsidy program, coupled with improved passenger counts at the airport, has led Continental to expand its service further and other airlines to enter the market.
After the airport posted its lowest passenger count in more than 15 years in 2002, the number of passengers increased by 16 percent in 2003 and by 12 percent in 2004, reversing a seven-year decline. In 2004, the airport had 631,038 passengers, the most since 1997.
There are now about eight departures a day and eight arrivals a day, Cooke said.
"I think we are in the beginning of the upswing again in the cycle. It's very cyclical, very volatile," said Seth Young, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who focuses on airport operations and management. "I think things are changing in Daytona Beach's favor."
In February, Continental will offer seasonal nonstop flights on weekends to Cleveland.
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