Tallahassee Regional Airport Weathers a Five-Month Lull

Big debts, bad weather and sky-high jet fuel prices have dealt airlines some wicked hits this year, but a Tallahassee Regional Airport official said Tuesday passenger totals are up this year, despite slight declines for five months.

"We realize, too, that our carriers have had their challenges with rising fuel costs, bankruptcies and restructuring," said Betty Rivers, business services manager at the airport.

She said airline industry woes contributed to lower monthly passenger totals from April through August.

Panama City's airport reported declines in three of the first six months of 2005. And Pensacola had a 14.7 percent drop in passenger traffic from January through September compared to the same period in 2004.

Gainesville added Continental and Northwest and increased its passenger traffic through March.

At Tallahassee Regional Airport, for the first nine months of the year, 862,922 passengers used the airport, compared with 859,215 for the same period in 2004, or an increase of only .4 percent.

Passenger usage in September 2005 broke a five-month decline in use over 2004, figures show, with 276,293 passengers using the airport compared with 275,481 in September 2004, a .3 percent increase.

Rivers said airport officials still expect to see a 2 percent increase in passengers by year's end. Passengers traffic increased by 3.76 over 2003 last year, totaling 1,155,072 for 2004.

Airport traffic dropped in 2001 to 853, 626 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but increased every year after that.

Rivers said she was "optimistic now, with the end of the hurricane season around the corner" and the arrival of the holiday season, airport travel would increase.

Two of Tallahassee Regional's larger carriers - Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines - have dealt with financial and weather-related storms this year, including a 22 percent jump in fuel prices after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast Aug. 29.
Jet fuel was $78.50 a barrel Monday, compared with $59.22 at the same time last year.

Delta's traffic into and out of Tallahassee is up about 1 percent. The airline has had a system-wide increase in passengers over last year, said spokesman Anthony Black.

Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, citing rising fuel, labor and pension costs.

Black said Delta has paid nearly $1.5 billion in extra fuel costs this year and that fare hikes have recovered about 20 percent of that amount.

Continental spokesman Martin DeLeon expressed the fuel price problem in more graphic terms: every $1 rise in the cost of a barrel of jet fuel costs Continental $40 million annually.

DeLeon said the airline is retro-fitting its jet fleet with wing lifts that increase lift and are expected to cut fuel consumption by 5 percent annually.

Tallahassee Democrat

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