Philadelphia Airport Traffic Surging

March 2, 2006
With 31.5 million passengers getting on or off planes, the airport ranked 25th-busiest in the world last year, compared with No. 30 in 2004.

Philadelphia International Airport set records in 2005 for number of passengers and for takeoffs and landings, but the high-water mark for travelers will be hard to top this year, city aviation officials said yesterday.

With 31.5 million passengers getting on or off planes, the airport ranked 25th-busiest in the world last year, compared with No. 30 in 2004, the officials said.

In aircraft operations, Philadelphia handled 535,666 takeoffs and landings last year, making it the ninth-busiest airport in the world, compared with 486,164 in 2004, when it was 13th-busiest.

Both sets of figures are based on preliminary 2005 rankings compiled by Airports Council International - North America, an industry group. That organization has issued 12-month data as of the end of November, but not annual data for 2005.

Among the reasons for Philadelphia's surge in traffic was the continuing growth of two low-cost carriers, Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways, and a big increase in flights and passengers for US Airways Express, the commuter service of the airport's largest airline. Last year was the first time Philadelphia International broke into the top 10 of the world's busiest airports.

"I'd love to take credit, but the airport's role was primarily in encouraging competition and supporting the arrival of new airlines," said City Aviation Director Charles J. Isdell.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is likely to be named the world's busiest for the fifth straight year when final statistics are released by the group this spring.

In the 2005 fourth quarter, US Airways moved many of its operations from its "mainline" larger-jet service to its Express commuter partners, following the airline's merger with America West Airlines. Express flights mostly use 30- to 70-seat jets, compared with up to 300 seats for the largest mainline jets.

Isdell said US Airways' shift to smaller jets might result in fewer total passengers' using the airport in 2006. November passenger counts marked the first time in 22 months that the airport did not set a record compared with the same month a year earlier, he said.

"We may have... flattened out," Isdell said. "It's going to be somewhat up to the airlines how we do."

Douglas Parker, US Airways chairman and chief executive officer, has said repeatedly since the merger that the airline planned to continue growing in Philadelphia, especially in service to Europe.

US Airways announced last month that it would start flying between Philadelphia and Milan, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; and Stockholm, Sweden - giving it 19 daily flights this summer to 16 European cities.

US Airways, including the Express service, wound up the year with 62.6 percent of the airport's total passengers, compared with 65.5 percent in 2004, according to data kept by the airport. Southwest has the second-largest share, with 8.4 percent.

Among the major carriers, American Airlines and Continental Airlines also had increases in passengers at the airport last year, while traffic for Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines declined fractionally.

Southwest Airlines' chief executive, Gary C. Kelly, said in a recent interview that he, too, wanted to add flights from Philadelphia, as the airline added jets to its fleet and as more airport gates became available.

In a separate report yesterday, from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Philadelphia continued to bump along the bottom in airline on-time departures and arrivals in January. The airport placed 30th in on-time departures and 28th in arrivals for the month, among the 33 largest U.S. facilities.

Phila. Lands in Top 10 Airports

Listed by world ranking for most takeoffs and landings.   

Airport                           2005*   2004      2003

Chicago                           1         1         1

Atlanta                           2         2         2

Dallas/Fort Worth                  3         3         3

Los Angeles                     4         4         4

Las Vegas                        5         7         9

Denver                           6         5         10

Houston                           7         12         12

Phoenix                           8         6         5

Minneapolis/St. Paul               9         8         7

Philadelphia                        10         13         16

*Figures for the 12 months ended in November.         

SOURCE: Airports Council International - North America

Philadelphia Inquirer

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