Traffic Tumbles at Pittsburgh Airport as Carriers Jockey for Passengers

Sep. 8--Despite the fast start by Southwest Airlines and gains by other carriers, passenger traffic at Pittsburgh International Airport tumbled once again in July, mostly because of cutbacks by US Airways.

In a month when Southwest became the airport's second busiest airline and non-US Airways carriers tallied a 37 percent increase in traffic, overall passenger volume fell 23.3 percent, compared with the total for July 2004.

As in past months, dominant carrier US Airways fueled the drop, with its traffic down 41 percent compared with that in the previous July. The losses, mainly in connecting traffic, are a result of the airline's decision last November to eliminate Pittsburgh as a hub.

Kent George, Allegheny County Airport Authority executive director, said he expects traffic totals to stabilize in November, when monthly reports will better reflect the airport's changing business environment.

"US Airways at this time last year was running 365 flights [a day]. They're running 210 now. That's what the problem is. We're not doing apples to apples [in comparing]," he said.

But he refused to predict whether the airport would see traffic gains by late fall, saying there are too many variables, including the price of fuel in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"I don't know what's going to happen. It depends on what happens with oil. It depends on whether we have the same number of flights," he said.

Southwest, meanwhile, continued its meteoritic rise since starting service in May, becoming the airport's second busiest carrier. But it still has a long way to go to catch US Airways, which carried 607,333 passengers in July, compared with Southwest's 69,983.

Nonetheless, the start has been so good that Dallas-based Southwest will be adding nine flights this fall, including new nonstop service to Phoenix and Tampa, Fla., to supplement its 10 flights to four cities -- Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Orlando, Fla.

"I expected big things out of Southwest, but I didn't know it would happen this quickly with so few number of flights. When they start flying their new schedule, I think you will see they will be firmly the second busiest carrier in Pittsburgh," George said.

As US Airways has cut back in Pittsburgh, its market share has been gradually eroding. In July, it was down to 59.6 percent, from a high of 89 percent at one time.

Non-US Airways airlines carried 412,031 passengers to and from the airport in July, a 37 percent increase over the same month last year.