Saturday, June 21, 2014

Quieter runways: Fewer planes taking off from Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport (KLBB)

Airline boardings are up across the United States, but not at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport.

Recent data released by the United States Department of Transportation showed a 2 percent increase nationwide in scheduled service passengers in March 2014 compared to March 2013.

It also said U.S. airlines carried 174.6 million domestic and international passengers during the first three months of 2014, which was 1 percent more than the same period in 2013.

But the numbers don’t translate to Lubbock’s airport.

According to this month’s economic indicators, April’s airline boardings in Lubbock decreased by about 3 percent compared to the previous year. Year to date, boardings went down from a little more than 145,000 in 2013 to roughly 141,000 this year.

“Airline traffic really depends on your part of the country, your local community and what’s going on,” Kelly Campbell, executive director of the airport, said. “Air service is a strange thing. Demand is a strange thing.”

From an operational standpoint, Campbell said she isn’t too worried about the decrease in traffic. She said the airport budgets conservatively, and during her time at the airport she’s seen the number of users fluctuate frequently.

One of the reasons for the decrease, she went on to say, could be the changing industry — specifically, mergers.

Recent developments that affect Lubbock’s airport were Continental Airline’s merger with United Airlines, American Airlines’ merger with US Airways and Southwest Airlines acquiring AirTran. These expansions have caused changes in air travel throughout the country.

In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released data on the flight cuts during the mergers in the past several years. For midsize airports, the average percentage change of flights since 2007 has decreased by 23.9 percent. Total seats have decreased by almost 19 percent.

“I hope that it’s just part of the life cycle,” Campbell said of the decrease in travelers, “but there have been huge changes in the airline industry where you have several airlines merging.”

The Lubbock airport has about 19 flights per day, Campbell said, which is fewer than it had years ago.

But fewer flights hasn’t caused air travel to decrease nationwide.

Deborah O’Connor, the owner of Bell Travel Services, has been a travel specialist for more than 25 years.

O’Connor speculated the increases in ticket prices may be causing more travelers to drive to larger airports in order to book cheaper, more convenient flights.

“Most people in Lubbock know somebody in Dallas, so they’re willing to drive,” O’Connor said. “It used to be, several years ago, you’d only save like $50 if you drove to Dallas, so it wasn’t worth the drive or the gas. Now when you compare, a family of four may save $1,000, and $1,000 is worth the drive.”

Peter Abzug works in communications for Airlines Reporting Corp., an airline-owned company that provides data and services. Abzug gave A-J Media a travel study the company performed between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2013 and 2014.

The study found a 3.6 percent increase in domestic ticket prices and a 4.9 percent increase in ticket count in domestic trips.

Although there is no proof of causality between O’Connor’s claim and the study, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport did have a 16 percent increase in flight origins in the two years of the study.

O’Connor said she believes the numbers boil down to ticket prices and flight availability.

In airport destinations, ARC’s study showed the DFW airport had a 1.5 percent decrease in prices.

“That’s what I boil it down to,” she said. “We used to have so many flights out of here. And you can see it in the number of gates, too. Half of those gates aren’t even used. We had other airlines here, but not anymore.”

Campbell said she expects airline boardings to pick up during the summer months, as more people travel for leisure.

Campbell was not sure if more people were traveling to Dallas, but she said ticket prices at Lubbock’s airport are no different than those at Midland and Amarillo.

“I like to point out to people that 19 flights a day is still good for a community our size when you look at the changes in the airline business,” she added. “There’s really four major airlines and we have service from three of them. So, it’s really hard to complain.”

Story and photo:

No comments:

Post a Comment