Virginia Airport Passenger Count Soared in July

Aug. 31--Ridership reached a record high at Richmond International Airport in July as discount carrier AirTran Airways grabbed an 8 percent market share in its first full month of service.

The airport's total number of passenger arrivals and departures -- 272,899 -- was 22 percent higher than in July of last year, officials said yesterday.

"Our growth is much, much greater than we are seeing nationwide," said airport spokesman Troy Bell, who cited an Air Transport Association report that said U.S. domestic passenger traffic was up 2.5 percent in July.

Judy Graham-Weaver, an AirTran spokeswoman, said that while she could not comment on passenger figures released by the airport, "we have been very pleased with how the Richmond market performed and how our bookings have gone."

AirTran, which began flying out of Richmond on June 23, had more than 22,000 passenger arrivals and departures in July. According to figures presented to the Capital Region Airport Commission yesterday, AirTran's 8.2 percent share of the market bested Continental Airlines' share (6.7 percent) and nearly matched Northwest Airlines' share (8.5 percent).

Delta Air Lines, which took the top local market share from longtime leader U.S. Airways in February, maintained its top spot in July (29.5 percent), followed by U.S. Airways (22.2 percent), American Airlines (14 percent) and United Airlines (10.7 percent). Delta, American and Northwest all reported double-digit growth in July.

Two airport commissioners said yesterday that they think AirTran is meeting expectations. The airport is providing $500,000 in marketing support for AirTran, partly from a federal grant.

"AirTran has definitely contributed" to the airport's record numbers, said James B. Donati Jr., the commission's chairman and a member of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. "They are attracting more of the casual travelers."

"They have materially improved airfare for the Richmond traveling public," added Commissioner Beverley W. "Booty" Armstrong.

Airport officials said ticket prices dropped after AirTran began service here, but fares have stabilized recently, Bell said.

July was the fifth record traffic month for the airport in 2005. Passenger traffic in January, February, March and June all surpassed passenger records set in 2001.