August 26, 2013

Jetport's passenger numbers looking up

A 1.4% rise through June indicates 2013 may end a four-year slump, spurred by a terminal expansion.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

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A US Airways Express prepares to land at the Portland International Jetport last week. US Airways and four other airlines – United, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest – fly out of Portland to 12 nonstop destinations.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Families handle their bags at the jetport. Director Paul Bradbury says the area’s limited population growth means “(passenger) growth will be determined by how well we can capture a greater share of the market.”

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Nationally, fares have been increasing steadily since 2009, although the increase for the first quarter of 2013 was the smallest in five years, suggesting prices are leveling off.

But fare numbers are a little misleading, experts say.

The national average round-trip fare for a domestic flight was $374 in 2012. A decade earlier the average was $312, but if adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index, it would be $402 in today's market.

Bradbury said Portland ranks below average among 26 similar-size markets in average fare. From July 2012 through June 13, the average domestic one-way fare from Portland was $188. The average for the other airports was $197.

Teresa Kinder and Ned Cunningham of Bloomington, Ind., visited Maine recently and flew through Portland. They said the fares were reasonable.

"I wouldn't say we fly all that much, but we try to if the price is right," Kinder said.

Leocha said airlines have no doubt realized that if fares rise too much, travelers will just stay home.

The trend in the airline industry over the last several years has been toward mergers and consolidation of airlines. Delta bought Northwest, United absorbed Continental and Southwest purchased AirTran.

The latest proposed merger is between US Airways and American, although the U.S. Department of Justice has surprised the airline industry by filing an antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger.

Bradbury said the latest proposed merger could help Portland's airport, which already has US Airways service but not American.

"That brand would be helpful to us," he said. "We have a lot of non-stop capacity to the Washington, D.C., market but only one nonstop airline option to Chicago."

Leocha said his group opposes the merger.

"We think the era of consolidation is over," he said. "There is a feeling, and the Justice Department thinks so, too, that airlines have gotten a little too cozy."

Whether the merger happens or not, Bradbury said last year's completion of a $75 million,145,000-square-foot terminal expansion puts Portland in a good position to draw new airlines.

"There is a question of whether Southwest would have come in without that expansion," he said. Southwest began flying out of Portland in April.

Bradbury also believes Portland is well positioned to continue seeing modest increases in passenger traffic.

"We're always going to lose some traffic to Logan (International Airport in Boston)," he said, "but I believe once people experience the convenience and overall value of flying from Portland, they will stay."

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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