Jan. 6--Redmond Airport had its busiest year ever in 2005, setting an all-time record for passenger volume, according to statistics released Wednesday.
The airport -- the only one served by commercial airlines in Central Oregon -- recorded 188,995 boardings in 2005, up 20.5 percent from 2004. December boardings also were an all-time high for the month, reaching 17,176 passengers, up 21.8 percent from December 2004.
Passenger boardings have increased almost 104 percent since 1994.
Airport manager Carrie Novick largely attributed last year's record-breaking passenger numbers to the new Delta Connection jet service to Salt Lake City. The flight, operated by SkyWest Airlines, started March 1 of last year.
"If you look at the stats, from March on, the numbers are incredible," Novick said. "We always look for 10-percent growth from year to year, and anything on top of that is just unbelievable."
Still, many local business officials have called for more flights and destinations out of Redmond, preferrably to Denver or Southern California. The boarding numbers could be the catalyst for enticing airlines to offer more flights.
Redmond's monthly boarding numbers broke records 11 out of 12 months in 2005, including all 10 months after the launch of the Salt Lake City service.
For frequent flier Donny Castleman, the new flight has been "a godsend."
"We do a lot of business with Nortel (Corp.) in Texas, and our bankers are based out of the East Coast," said Castleman, president and CEO of Bend-based telecommunications firm Edge Wireless. "Any connection to a major hub works for us."
Salt Lake City is a Delta Air Lines hub.
A Delta spokesman said the airline is happy with the performance of the new service. A third daily flight to Salt Lake City was added Dec. 1 because of demand.
The new flight isn't the only factor contributing to Redmond Airport's boom.
Horizon Air, which operates flights to Seattle and Portland, reported a 7.5-percent increase in passengers traveling in and out of Redmond in 2005.
"It's no secret that we're one of the fastest-growing areas in the Pacific Northwest," said Jim Cook, Horizon's customer services manager at Redmond Airport. "There's a lot of demand for flights, and we're not sure if all that demand has been met yet."
The growing number of passengers flying out of Redmond has spurred officials to plan airport upgrades this year. Currently, the airport is expanding its parking capacity and rerouting the streets accessing the terminal.
Novick said a terminal upgrade is being designed and construction should start in late fall.
"There's going to be bigger everything," she said. "Everybody's running out of space (in the current terminal). Nobody has enough room."
Local business leaders are working on getting more flights into Redmond to support Central Oregon's growing economy. A number of local businesses have called for flights to Southern California and Denver.
But airline officials say they have no plans for such service at this time.
"It takes more than just the airline; it also takes the support of the community to get new service," said SkyWest spokeswoman Sabrena Suite. "(Airlines) don't want to take risks just for the sake of taking risks. The paradigm (for establishing new routes) has changed."
To gain the Salt Lake City service, Redmond Airport hired a consultant to prepare a business analysis to show Delta the flight would be profitable.
Both SkyWest partners, Delta and United Airlines, are operating under bankruptcy protection.
Horizon's Cook said his company's purchase of 12 new turboprop planes could mean big things for Redmond when the first batch of aircraft is delivered later this year. Horizon bought the planes in October.
Since the airport's current terminal was built in 1993, annual boardings have more than doubled, from roughly 79,000 to 189,000.
The United Express flights had passenger loads of about 85 percent through July.
The nation's largest airlines' financial woes have been well-publicized, but both carriers operating flights out of Redmond Airport are weathering the storm quite well.
SkyWest Airlines is operating the United Express flight only on Saturdays and Sundays until September.