WW Airport boardings sky high for year so far

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WALLA WALLA -- Passenger enplanements at the Walla Walla Regional Airport have climbed every month this year, ascending to record-breaking highs even compared to years when there were more flights, the latest figures show.

Four out of the last six months have shown double-digit percentage increases in air travel on the two daily flights from Walla Walla to Seattle.

June and July posted their highest numbers to date. In June, 2,837 passengers boarded at the airport. That's a 13.8 percent increase from the same period in 2010. The next best June enplanements came in 2001, when 2,821 passengers flew from Walla Walla to July on more daily flights.

July saw 2,524 passengers. That's a 20.8 percent increase from the same month a year before. The next busiest July was in 2001, when 2,443 people traveled from Walla Walla to Seattle.

Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller, who owns World Wide Travel Service, said the increase may be partly attributed to the stabilization of the flight schedule, Alaska Airline's reliability flying out of the community and the company's common-rated fare, which matches the price of the airline's Seattle fares out of Pasco.

The latter likely helps retain some passengers who may have been seeking cheaper flights out of another airport.

"We're really pleased and encouraged by our solid and steady increase in the Walla Walla boardings over these past seven months," Schneidmiller said. "Especially during these challenging economic times."

He said the Port and Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce have dedicated efforts to build local numbers as a strategy to retain air service. In a late April meeting with local officials, the airline made it clear that though the Walla Walla market is profitable, it wasn't meeting the airline's goals.

The Port, which operates the Walla Walla Regional Airport, is working to increase the airport's social networking visibility. Along with the Chamber, it's also embarking on a "mythbusters" campaign to dispel common beliefs that flights out of Pasco are more economical. That includes a focus on the Walla Walla airport's free parking and services, including free wi-fi and coffee.

Officials aren't under the impression that air service is threatened at this point. But the numbers certainly help to support the community's demand for flights.

So far this year the number of people boarding in Walla Walla ¬-- 17,919 -- is up 9.3 percent from 2010. Year-to-date enplanements are down from 2009's figure of 18,574 at this point. Other than that exception, they are at their highest rate in at least 10 years.

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