July 23, 2008

Airport Records First Decline in Boardings in a Year

By Paul B. Johnson, High Point Enterprise, N.C.

Jul. 23--GREENSBORO -- What not long ago was, "Thanks, Skybus!" is now -- with sarcasm -- "Thanks a lot, Skybus."

The impact of the financial implosion this spring of Skybus Airlines Inc. registered in another way last month at Piedmont Triad International Airport. The airport recorded its first monthly decline in passenger boardings in a year because of the impact of the loss of Skybus flights.

Skybus and another discount carrier still at PTIA, Allegiant Air, started serving the airport in the spring of last year. Then state officials, regional leaders and Skybus executives proclaimed with fanfare in October that the Ohio-based discount carrier would make PTIA its second hub-type airport.

Skybus eventually brought in 18 daily flights, including PTIA's first direct service to the West Coast. Through the first week of April, passenger numbers soared.

Then Skybus, with little public notice, announced April 4 that it would cease operations immediately and file for bankruptcy. The hangover effect of the Skybus demise is showing up in passenger numbers.

Boardings were down 8.5 percent from June of this year compared to last June, a decline from 104,660 to 95,742 passengers, according to figures released Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority.

PTIA also is coping with the general slump in the aviation industry that's causing airlines to reduce service, said authority Chairman Henry Isaacson.

"The high cost of fuel is really wreaking havoc, and there's not much we can do about it," said Isaacson, a Greensboro businessman and civic leader.

Most of the jets that serve PTIA burn 600 gallons of fuel per hour, said authority Vice Chairman Walt Cockerham of Greensboro.

Because of Skybus boardings through the first four months of this year, airport traffic remains up 16 percent for the first half of 2008. Boardings totaled 601,836 through June compared to 518,778 through the first half of 2007. But PTIA Executive Director Ted Johnson said he expects the airport to record monthly passenger boarding declines through April of next year.


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