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WALLA WALLA — Another record-breaking month for air service is lifting doubts that passenger increases this year are just a fluke.
September’s numbers were the highest on record for that month, said Walla Walla Regional Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund.
During September 2,851 people flew out of the airport. That’s a 5.8 percent increase from September 2012, previously the busiest September on the books.
During the same period, a record-breaking 2,740 people flew into Walla Walla on the daily flights from Seattle through carrier Alaska Airlines. That was a 2 percent jump from last year’s previous best of 2,685.
September was the third time this year for record passenger numbers. Previous highs were set in May and July. However, Skoglund was cautious over the summer because despite the increase in passengers, the load factors remained low that month.
The load factor is the measure of the use of seats on a flight. That figure is more important in air service retention than the number of passengers. Although July’s passenger numbers were higher than the previous year, the number of flights during that month in 2012 was fewer. The airline had temporarily reduced its number of flights on two weekdays last summer after Alaska officials said they were losing money in the community. The flights were restored last fall.
With September’s numbers, Skoglund said the data is back to “comparing apples to apples.”
“We’re definitely seeing an upward trend, which is positive news,” she said.
She said the airport is seeing an increase in the Taste & Tote program. Initiated last year, the program allows passengers to check their first case of wine free when traveling out of Walla Walla. Although Skoglund said she hasn’t seen hard numbers of the program, she said she’s hearing the weekend outbound flights are seeing 25 to 30 boxes of wine checked.
September’s numbers may have also been bolstered by an increase in business travel and fall vacations.
Increased advertising through a two-year federal grant is also likely contributing.
Ads designed to preserve local air service have hit the airwaves, press and digital sources in Seattle and in California’s Bay Area.
The $250,000 grant is part of a Small Community Air Development Grant issued through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Such grants are used to support existing air service or build new service. Under terms of the contribution, the Port matches $50,000.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.