Small airports struggle with economy

Small airports struggle with economy

Oregon’s regional airports have held steady against the poor economy, adding new airlines, destinations and expansions despite some lower passenger counts.

From 2008 to 2009, Redmond’s airport saw a 5.6% passenger decrease and Medford’s passengers decreased by 1.7%. But Eugene’s airport saw a 5.1% increase in passenger travel, and Medford airport director Bern Case says his airport is expecting passengers to increase by almost 11% this year.

Expansion plans include a longer runway at Prineville’s airport, which received a $690,135 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration in July for the project. Longer runways can accommodate larger aircraft, which means more passengers and more money.

Redmond’s airport opened its new facilities and terminal in February, the result of a $60 million expansion that enlarged the airport from 24,000 square feet to 140,000. Medford’s airport also has added another terminal.

And airports are adding airlines and destinations. Redmond instituted daily service to Denver and Phoenix, and increased the passenger size of flights to and from San Francisco from 30 to 50. (However, Horizon in late August will drop its daily flight from Redmond to Los Angeles.) Medford added nonstop service to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Case says having multiple airlines serving an airport gives people choices in terms of cost and destination. That increases the likelihood they will use the airport.

Airlines serving small airports offer deep discounts because of lack of competition (the FAA says only Seaport, which serves Pendleton, gets a federal subsidy). Case says one-way tickets to Los Angeles and Las Vegas range between $59 and $89. “We’ve managed to stay competitive,” he says.

AMANDA WALDROUPE