Sunday, January 22, 2017

What does fewer passengers mean for the Bellingham International Airport (KBLI)?

BELLINGHAM -    Fewer people are flying out of the local airport, a trend tied to the weakening Canadian dollar.

Last year 417,940 people flew out of Bellingham International Airport, a 7.8 percent decrease compared to 2015, according to data from the Port of Bellingham. Between 2014 and 2015, the drop was 15.7 percent.

Passenger traffic at the Bellingham airport should stabilize this year, possibly with a 2 percent to 3 percent drop in activity if the Canadian dollar remains weak, said Sunil Harman, director of aviation at the Port.

Airport traffic peaked in 2013, when the Canadian dollar was hovering above 95 cents U.S.for most of the year. In 2014, when the loonie still was relatively strong, Canadians accounted for around 55 percent of total traffic, with the rest mostly from Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

Even with the drop in traffic, Harman expects current routes from Bellingham to remain in place this year, with some seasonal adjustments of frequency on some year-round flights.

Port officials will continue to coax airlines to add destinations to attract more travelers from the local market. At the top of the list is re-establishing flights to Denver and Honolulu.

“Both (Denver and Honolulu) are underserved and performed well when operated from Bellingham in the past,” Harman said.

Harman sees some opportunities with Alaska Airlines after its recent acquisition of Virgin America. Alaska recently announced it was adding four new routes out of Portland, Ore., which could become a convenient connector because of Alaska’s daily flights between Bellingham and Portland.

San Francisco is a hub for Virgin America, which Harman hopes may increase the possibility of a Bellingham to San Francisco connection. Allegiant Air currently offers flights between Bellingham and Oakland.

Harman said the Port is working on several airport projects, including installing a new security system in the main terminal parking and economy lots. It also plans to relocate the rental car return and pickup to the southern portion of the terminal lot near the rental car counters and baggage claim exits.

Also coming this year near the airport is the opening of the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites. The hotel plans a March 1 opening, said Randi Axelsson, hotel director of sales and marketing.

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