Friday, March 25, 2011

Airport passenger numbers steady

Airlines report solid winter season; schedule changes in effect for slack

Express Staff Writer

A Horizon flight takes off in Hailey. Passenger numbers at Friedman Memorial Airport were up slightly in January and February. Photo by Mountain Express

As the 75th winter season at Sun Valley enters its final month, commercial air service at Friedman Memorial Airport is showing a modest 2 percent improvement over the same period last year. Considering the region's prolonged dry spell during January and February and the elimination this winter of Horizon's service from Boise, this winter's passenger numbers are encouraging news for the business community.

The airport's dominant carrier, Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, carried 7,678 passengers from December through February on its Salt Lake City-Sun Valley route. While that represents a 2 percent decline for SkyWest, its passenger traffic improved by 9 percent for the month of January compared to a year ago.

"Travel to and from Sun Valley was consistent with years past," said Wes Horrocks, spokesman for SkyWest in St. George, Utah. "We at SkyWest are always pleased with the performance of the Salt Lake-Sun Valley route. The success of the route and the support we receive from the community are important to us."

SkyWest's overall numbers were particularly impacted by a poor December, during which 308 fewer passengers boarded in Hailey than did during the previous December, a 14.5 percent decline.

Seattle-based Horizon Airlines, providing seasonal, daily nonstop flights to Seattle and Los Angeles, experienced a 7 percent improvement this winter compared to that of 2009-10. Horizon's Hailey enplanements from December through February totaled 5,951, up from 5,590 for the same period a year ago.

Horizon, too, experienced a slow December this winter. The carrier's 694 Sun Valley passengers represented a 21 percent decrease from December 2009, but that was offset by a 26 percent improvement in January this year.

Friedman has seen its fair share of both diverted and canceled flights this winter, but those numbers are also consistent with past trends. Monthly airport reports show that the December through February period had a total of 121 diverted commercial flights with a further 23 canceled.

February proved to be the hardest month on travelers, with 58 diversions out of 252 total commercial flights, or 23 percent. Of those diversions, SkyWest had 36 and Horizon 22. Stormy weather, which returned to the Wood River Valley in mid-March, was the familiar culprit.

With the end of ski season in sight, commercial air service to and from Sun Valley will see slight changes.

Horizon's nonstop service from Los Angeles and Seattle was discontinued for the winter season as scheduled on March 20. The flights will resume for the summer on May 27 (Memorial Day weekend) and continue through Sept. 5 (Labor Day weekend).

SkyWest will keep its seven daily flights between Salt Lake City and Sun Valley in operation through March, at which time the route will be served by five daily flights. The carrier's summer schedule is not yet finalized, but Horrocks said that, as in the past, SkyWest will increase summer flights to Sun Valley as demand reaches its peak in July.

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