Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Commercial air traffic picks up

New destinations boost passenger numbers

Express Staff Writer

Largely due to the recent inauguration of United Airlines’ nonstop flights connecting Sun Valley to San Francisco and to Denver, enplanements at Freidman Memorial Airport have jumped 28 percent this year.
    On a seasonal schedule, commercial air carriers now offer direct flights to the Wood River Valley from five cities—Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Seattle. United began its San Francisco flights last winter and its Denver flights this summer.
    The expanded schedule coincided with the introduction of 65-seat jets by Delta Airlines in early January. The jets replaced 28-seat turboprop planes and added 3,100 seats each way between Sun Valley and Salt Lake City for the 2014 schedule, though with a reduction in the number of flights.
    According to data from the airport, between January and August 2014, 18,424 passengers departed on Alaska Airlines, 23,551 on Delta and 7,958 on United, for a total of 49,933 enplanements. Alaska offers air service to Los Angeles and Seattle.
    Between January and August 2013, 17,427 paying passengers and crew departed from the airport on Alaska Airlines and 21,626 departed on Delta, for a total of 39,053 enplanements.
    Even without the United passengers, the Alaska and Delta flights alone to date in 2014 would have totaled 41,975 passengers, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year.
    Over the past decade, enplanements at the airport had been on a downward trend, dropping from 76,966 in 2003 to 52,679 in 2013, with the low point in 2012.
    Commercial air service should get a further boost from a 1 percent local-option tax passed by voters in Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey. The so-called LOT for air service has generated $1.9 million since collections began on Jan. 1.
    A nearly $2 million fiscal 2015 budget approved by the Sun Valley Air Service Board in late August will be spent about equally between airline revenue guarantees and marketing. About 55 percent of expenses is allotted toward air service contracts with United and Alaska Airlines. Sun Valley Resort will match the amount 50-50, the budget indicates.
    The budget includes $1 million for air service marketing, split 60 percent for winter and 40 percent for summer, as recommended by the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.
    Winter and summer passenger surveys done by the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance in 2013 indicated that visitors and part-time residents arriving by air would spend about $61 million during their stay.
The summer portion of a 2014 survey is still under way, and a report is scheduled for release late this fall.
Recent development of tourism facilities indicates confidence among local business leaders in an improving tourism economy. In early August, Jack Bariteau, developer of a proposed $53 million Auberge Resorts-Sun Valley hotel in downtown Ketchum, said the implementation of the LOT for air service and increased enplanements at Friedman airport are signs that Ketchum is regaining its economic vitality.
    “The indications are that we’ve turned things around from an air service perspective,” airport Manager Rick Baird said this spring.
    The ratio of available seats to purchased seats last winter results in a 74 percent “load factor,” better than the previous five-year average of about 64 percent.
    “To have a 74 percent load factor with new service and a new market—I think that’s astounding as well,” Baird said.

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