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Feb. 27, 2021

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PDX gets growing with more routes, passengers

Airport adds more domestic, international routes as it expects to draw more than 16 million passengers for first time, which will change its designation from midsize to large

By , Columbian Business Editor
Published:
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Icelandair launched seasonal nonstop service from Portland to Reykjavik, Iceland, beginning May 2.
Icelandair launched seasonal nonstop service from Portland to Reykjavik, Iceland, beginning May 2. It continues through October 21. Photo Gallery

• Alaska Airlines and sister carrier, Horizon Air, serve 41 percent of passengers at Portland International Airport, followed by Southwest Airlines, with 17 percent.

• Of the top 20 destinations from PDX, 30 percent are less than 1,500 miles from Portland.

• Cargo flights represent about 10 percent of all air traffic at PDX.

• PDX runway capacity is adequate, but airport officials say they see need for improved efficiencies within the terminal.

• PDX has less than half the air passengers of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which in 2014 served 37.4 million passengers.

These are good times for air travelers, with airlines expanding their nonstop flights between Portland International Airport and new domestic and international destinations for the summer travel season and beyond.

German airline Condor Airlines will make its debut June 19 at PDX with seasonal nonstop service to Frankfurt, Germany. It follows by just a few weeks the entry of Icelandair to the Portland market, with twice-weekly service between Portland and Reykjavik. Those additions join Delta Air Lines’ year-round, nonstop service between Portland and Amsterdam. Other international flights are Volaris Airlines’ year-round, nonstop to Guadalajara, Mexico, launched in 2014, and Delta’s long-running nonstop service between Portland and Tokyo.

• Alaska Airlines and sister carrier, Horizon Air, serve 41 percent of passengers at Portland International Airport, followed by Southwest Airlines, with 17 percent.

• Of the top 20 destinations from PDX, 30 percent are less than 1,500 miles from Portland.

• Cargo flights represent about 10 percent of all air traffic at PDX.

• PDX runway capacity is adequate, but airport officials say they see need for improved efficiencies within the terminal.

• PDX has less than half the air passengers of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which in 2014 served 37.4 million passengers.

In addition to the new international flights, several new domestic nonstop routes have launched recently or are waiting in the wings. Southwest Airlines began its nonstop service to Dallas-Love Field on April 8. It begins twice-daily service to Los Angeles today and on Aug. 9 will launch twice-daily service to Orange County, Calif., the home to Disneyland. All are year-round services.

Alaska Airlines begins year-round service to St. Louis on July 1 and to Austin, Texas. On Nov. 5. Until now, nonstop service to Austin was only available during the summer from Southwest Airlines.

Status change

The service expansions come at a time when Portland International Airport is on the cusp of a significant change in status among its peers.

The airport expects for the first time to draw more than 16 million passengers, a threshold that will change its designation from midsize to large airport, said Kama Simonds, aviation media relations manager at the Port of Portland, owner and operator of the airport. The change does not affect the airport’s operations or finances; it is a recognition of the airport’s importance in the constellation of air travel. Its large volume is particularly noteworthy, Simonds said, due to the fact that PDX is an “origin and destination” airport, with about 85 percent of departing passengers coming from the Oregon-Washington service area, rather than a “hub” airport where many people are departing only after a flight transfer.

The new nonstop routes that promise to draw more people to the region are good news for local hospitality and tourism businesses, as more people from other regions and nations take advantage of growing access to the Northwest. In 2014, visitors to Clark County spent $420 million, including $302 million for overnight stays and $118 million for other travel expenses, according to the latest Dean Runyan Associates report.

PDX for years has struggled to attract and then retain international service. Its international travel peaked with more than 600,000 passengers in 2008, but the recession and other factors spelled an end to Lufthansa’s service to Frankfurt, Germany, and Alaska’s seasonal flights to several destinations in Mexico.

Portland now is in an enviable position of being one of the smallest airports to offer both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic service, the Port of Portland’s Simonds said.

“I think that makes us quite unique,” she said.

International routes

Titus Johnson, a U.S.-based vice president of Condor Airlines, said the Portland region and the Northwest are increasingly popular destinations for seasoned European travelers who are looking for vacation sites outside the usual major city destinations.

“We are promoting the flight all over Europe,” Johnson said in a telephone interview during his visit to Portland last week. “We want to grow the market. This is a fantastic opportunity for Portland to have this service.”

The twice-weekly Frankfurt flight will be a major connector to many major European cities from one of the continent’s largest and busiest hub airports. Johnson said that Condor, a well-known airline in Europe that was formed in 1956, has an efficient business model that allows it to offer a competitive price of just less than $500 for a one-way ticket. The seasonal service will end on Oct. 6, but Johnson said the company hopes to extend the service period next year.

Also new to Portland is Icelandair, which launched on May 20 its twice-weekly service to Reykjavik, which it bills as a gateway to 20 European cities. The flight is offered through Oct. 21. As a bonus, the airline allows a stopover of up to seven nights in Iceland with no additional airfare. Icelandair’s website offer round-trip flights for around $1,000 from Portland.

Domestic flights

On the domestic travel side, some of the recent service expansions are the result of efforts by the Port of Portland to attract carriers to routes that it believes are attractive to Oregon and Washington residents within PDX’s service area, said Simonds.

“We look at our traveler base, and work with carriers and our development team to meet the needs of our region,” she said.

The upcoming, new year-round flights to Austin and St. Louis are among those options. Simonds said PDX officials would love to attract nonstop service to any major Florida destination, especially Orlando. Other top destinations that lack nonstop service from PDX are Nashville and Indianapolis, she said.

On the air freight side, the port would like to attract a carrier offering direct service to Asia to carry Northwest agricultural products, especially berries and other fresh products, Simonds said.

But while some flights add texture to the air travel network, others add depth, with increased offerings by rival airlines to popular destinations. Delta has expanded its service to Seattle, where it is engaged in a rivalry with Alaska Airlines. Southwest’s new twice-daily service to Los Angeles International Airport adds another player in a competitive market already served by Delta and Alaska. Southwest’s nonstop to Orange County also puts it head-to-head with Alaska.

The expanded service is a function of healthy competition by air carriers, Simonds said.

“People are creatures of habit,” she said. “Airlines are businesses, and they recognize that, and they want to serve their customers.”

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