North Carolina Airport Reports Decent Holiday Traffic

Nov. 29--TRIAD -- Travelers last week gave Piedmont Triad International Airport a respectable start to the holiday travel season, an airport official said.

It remains to be seen, though, whether holiday passengers can propel the airport out of its recent slump in the number of travelers.

Airport officials won't know specific figures on November passenger traffic until numbers from the airlines are tallied by the middle of next month, said PTIA Executive Director Ted Johnson.

"I think we had a good holiday weekend," Johnson said Monday. "We certainly didn't set any records, but we had a good, steady flow of traffic."

Travelers parking their cars during the Thanksgiving holiday filled one of the airport's overflow lots, he said. Still, PTIA's holiday travel this year will have a difficult time keeping pace with 2004 because the airline has lost service.

PTIA had 92 flights during last week's Thanksgiving holiday week, compared to 104 flights during the same period last year.

The number of passengers boarding flights at PTIA was down 14 percent during October, which continued a five-month decline in airport traffic compared to the same months in 2004. Nearly 20,000 fewer passengers, 116,888, boarded planes in October. Year-to-date traffic is down by 1.5 percent for the first 10 months of 2005, the airport reports.

Before the recent downturn, PTIA had recorded 16 consecutive months of passenger gains.

Piedmont Triad International Airport officials aren't alone in confronting the recent problem of reduced flights and fewer passengers, an industry analyst said. Other small- to medium-sized airports around the country have faced tough times as they compete with nearby, larger airports offering more flights and generally better fares, said Tim Sieber, a vice president with The Boyd Group, an airline industry analyst organization based in Evergreen, Colo.

PTIA must compete with two nearby major airports -- Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport -- that offer a wider variety of flights and fares, he said.

An example of a similar airport facing the same challenge is in Dayton, Ohio, where traffic fell 17 percent for the first part of the year. Dayton struggles to compete with the larger airport in Cincinnati, Sieber said.

One development during the past year that has hurt PTIA is the decline of discount carrier Independence Air, Sieber said. Independence Air began serving the airport in 2004. The Washington, D.C.-based carrier at its peak had 11 daily flights from PTIA and is now down to three, the airport reports.

"They have significantly reduced the number of seats they were flooding the market with," Sieber said.

Also, Delta Airlines, the top carrier at PTIA, recently raised its fare levels because of higher fuel costs, he said. "A lot of the traffic that may have gone to Raleigh to get discount Southwest Airlines fares was being retained in Greensboro by Delta," he said. "Now, that migration has started to flip back again."

PTIA's best bet to reverse the trend is to recruit a solid discount carrier, such as upstart JetBlue, he said.