PDX ends year with passenger spike
It’s the first increase in 16 months and a positive sign for 2010, airport officials say
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Portland International Airport finished 2009 in better shape than it began, with passenger traffic making a comeback despite higher baggage fees and more crowded flights.
The airline industry, roiled last year by global economic weakness, saw red ink by the tank load as business travel fell sharply and consumers curtailed leisure travel. Carriers responded by cutting flight schedules, boosting baggage fees and, in some cases, looking for merger partners — as was the case with Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.
At the start of the year, passenger traffic at PDX was off by as much as 20 percent. A related drop in landing fee revenue had the airport scrambling to cut its own budget.
But in December, passenger traffic showed a 3.7 percent increase over the same month in 2008. It was the first time in 16 straight months since July 2008 that the airport had seen positive year-over-year numbers, said Steve Schreiber, aviation director for the Port of Portland, which operates PDX.
Last month, 1,064,708 people passed through its facilities as compared with 1,026,912 in December 2008.
About 10,000 jobs are supported directly or indirectly by airport operations, with a substantial number of those jobs held by Clark County residents.
For the year, PDX reported a decline in passenger traffic of 9.6 percent from 2008, with domestic travel down 8.7 percent and international travel off 28.8 percent. It was a tough year, with Lufthansa and Mexicana airlines pulling out of the Portland market and domestic carriers cutting flights.
For the year, flight operations were down 12.7 percent, but December flights increased to 15,386, up 1.5 percent.
“As we head into 2010, we see signs for optimism,” Schreiber said. “Carriers have done a good job of matching their capacity with current demand. We’re starting to see some adding service in key markets.”
Schreiber said PDX is forecasting modest overall growth this year of about 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
“Our short-term parking facilities often used by business travelers have seen upticks of as much as 5 percent, recently,” he said. “So far, the increases have been inconsistent, but overall, they’re going up.”
Air freight, while still far below normal levels, has also shown some recent improvements. In December, cargo totaling 19,945 tons moved through the airport, up a strong 9.3 percent over December 2008.
“We suspect this is the manufacturing sector starting to pick up,” Schreiber said. “We see cargo activity as a leading indictor for the region’s economy.”
By June 2009, PDX had made its own cuts in response to dwindling revenue from operations by implementing weekly unpaid furloughs for staff, pay cuts for administrators and across-the-board contract reductions. A total of $7 million came out of the airport’s operating budget of near $90 million, Schreiber said.
“We looked at everything we were doing across the scope of the airport for cost savings,” Schreiber said.
Last year, a total of 12.92 million passengers used PDX, down 9.6 percent from 14.29 million in 2008 and from a peak of 15 million in fiscal 2007-08.
Top carriers at PDX are Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Northwest (now part of Delta).