Midland International Airport Flying Strong Despite Gas Prices

Oct. 19--While rising fuel costs haven't yet prompted airlines at Midland International Airport to cancel flights, they have contributed to delays and other problems for local air travelers, officials say.

But some airlines have canceled flights at other airports to save on fuel costs, said a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, and that can make it more difficult for Odessa area travelers to catch connecting flights.

Regardless, air service at Midland International appears strong. Marv Esterly, director of airports, said. "None of our flights have canceled and fuel sales were up 26 percent over last year in September.

"We have not noticed any impact here. Our enplanements are up this year by 8.7 percent," he said.

Esterly speculated the reason for the rising number of enplanements at Midland International, even with the rising cost of jet fuel, is that it costs motorists even more to drive to their destination rather than fly.

"I know there have been some increases in fares, but everything we have seen in terms of usage of the airport is positive," he said.

In the meantime, however, airlines serving Midland International are doing a balancing act between escalating fuel costs and a dwindling air service market for Midland and Odessa travelers needing to reach particular markets.

"We have not cut back on any flights," Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Edna Ruano said. She noted Southwest Airlines has a fuel hedging program in place which means the airlines can purchase fuel at a reduced price.

The airline, she said, is 85 percent hedged at $26 a barrel for this year and 65 percent hedged at $32 a barrel for 2006.

That is an advantage in a year when the cost of jet fuel has been dealing misery to airlines.

Dave Jackson, spokesman for American Eagle, said the airline has seen the price for refining a barrel of crude oil into jet fuel rise from $4 to $67 in the past two-and-a-half years. At the same time, the cost of a barrel of crude oil has risen from about $30 to $60, he said.

American canceled 558 flights to various markets last week because of the cost of fuel, but none came into or went out of Midland International and none are planned. The airline has six daily flights into and out of Midland, he said.

"We're going to be re-evaluating these things on a monthly basis," Jackson said.

He said the airline has taken some steps to conserve fuel without endangering passenger safety, such as using only one engine when taxiing prior to takeoff.

But the airline really cannot pass fuel cost along to customers in the price of tickets because of the competition factor, he said.

Jackson said there is an unexpected positive to the higher cost of jet fuel.

"It's forcing the airlines to look at the way they do business. It's making us look at ways to save fuel like using only one engine when taxiing," he said.

Ruano also encouraged air travelers to work for repeal of the Wright amendment as a means of gaining flight connections at Dallas.

"We're encouraging our customers to support Southwest Airlines in its attempt to have the Wright amendment removed so our customers can catch connecting flights at Dallas Love Field," Ruano said.

"Over 250,000 Texans have spoken out already, saying they want the Wright amendment removed," Ruano said.

The Wright Amendment is a federal law that was put in place a full six years after the opening of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to block long-haul flights out of nearby Love Field Airport. The sole purpose was to contain the then-small Southwest Airlines at Love Field while all the other airlines utilized DFW Airport.


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