Airport on its way to second-busiest year ever

You can sum up the Medford airport's flight to its second-best commercial passenger year ever in a single phrase: Allegiant Travel Co.

Upstart Allegiant Air has continued to ring up the numbers since its entry into the market in May 2007. Yet the Las Vegas-based firm, which operates both an airline and land accomodation services, has largely carved out its niche without sending competing airlines into a tailspin.

"They say they don't compete with the other airlines, they compete with the couch," said Medford Airport Director Bern Case. "I believe it's accurate. Delta (Connection) was down a smudge, but everyone else is up. I think Allegiant has helped us grow the market; they get people who don't regularly travel because of their fares."

August passenger traffic at the Jackson County-owned airport jumped 6.44 percent, the biggest monthly gain since April. The 64,743 travelers passing through the gates pushed the 2010 total to 425,560, up 7.76 percent over last year. Although the 2007 record of 647,471 passengers appears out of reach, it would take a serious drop-off to not exceed 2008's 604,690 figure. This year's February, March and July figures all exceeded the corresponding 2007 months.

"I was hoping for a record in August," Case said, "but when you have the third-best month in the history of the airport, it's hard to complain."

Allegiant Air, which flies to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Mesa, Ariz., pushed its Medford passenger total to 9,848 in August, a 35.8 percent gain. Horizon, the top local service provider, saw a 2.9 percent pickup in business with 24,896 passengers, while United Express had 23,172 passengers, a 1.7 percent increase. Delta Connection dropped one-half of 1 percent to 5,816.

Allegiant's impact has been equally felt at airports of similar size.

At Tri-Cities Airport in Johnsonville, Tenn., Allegiant now accounts for about 20 percent of the passenger traffic — serving Florida destinations Orlando and Tampa Bay — in a market it shares with Delta Connection, US Airways and American Eagle.

"They add service on holidays and seasonally, pulling back during slower months," said Melissa Thomas, Tri-Cities Airport's director of marketing and air service development. "Absolutely, Allegiant has produced new fliers, there's no doubt about it."

The budget-minded fliers Allegiant attracts tend to cut costs any and every way. "They attract the passengers who may have not flown before, because the fare is so affordable," Thomas said. "One of the things we have found though is that the leisure passenger is less inclined to park in our parking lots because they are so much more price-sensitive."

To the north, Allegiant has developed into the kingpin at Bellingham International Airport that draws passengers from British Columbia down to Kent, Wash.

"Allegiant has been finding niche markets that have been untapped, especially here in Bellingham, and they're gaining momentum," said Daniel Zenk, Bellingham's airport manager. "They have a 50 percent share and they haven't seen the top end of the market yet."

Allegiant started with four flights a week between Bellingham and Las Vegas in 2004 and now flies to seven cities, five of them in California. All that has spawned annual growth of 17 to 24 percent during the past five years, Zenk said.

Case said Medford averages 20 outbound flights per day, down one from a year ago, but the seat count remains static because of larger planes.

"One Allegiant (MD-80) flight," Case said, "equals five of the 30-passenger regional jets."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail

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