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Greg Stiles / Mail Tribune A third or daily departures from Medford take place by 7:35 a.m.

Passenger records have Medford airport director talking terminal expansion

May was the 43rd month in the past 45 that the Medford airport broke a passenger record.

The airport has eclipsed annual records the past four years, capped by the 901,578 travelers who passed through the gates in 2017. With activity running 14.3 percent ahead of last year, the million-passenger plateau isn’t that far off.

All of that has airport Director Jerry Brienza talking terminal expansion.

“We’re working on an airport master plan that isn’t scheduled for completion until 2020,” Brienza said. “We’re looking at breaking the terminal study out of that to get it going so the FAA could buy off on expansion sooner, rather than later. We’re seeing if we can do that, talking to the FAA and internally. We’re reviewing it to decide if we want to go down that road.”

The six-gate, 100,000-square-foot, $36 million terminal opened in 2009, smack in the middle of the recession. The 549,532-passenger total of that year was well short of the then-record 647,471, which held sway until the present boom began in 2014.

The terminal was designed for expansion, so Brienza has a good idea where new gates would appear, but he couldn’t hazard a guess concerning scope or cost.

“Right now, the easiest way to go is north (toward the control tower),” he said. “If we go south, the fire station is in the way. Eventually, when the fire station is relocated, there will be expansion to the south.”

“We don’t know how much we would need to expand without a capacity study and analyzing the raw data,” he said.

A third of the 27 daily departures occur between 5 and 7:35 in the morning, stressing the security system for three hours. The rest of the day, the line moves quickly.

In May, United Airlines (including United Express) continued picking up market share as Alaska Airlines’ once dominant hold further eroded.

A total of 84,825 passengers flew in and out of the airport last month, topping the May 2017 mark of 72,298 by 17.3 percent.

Brienza anticipates more to come, given recent fare wars reducing costs to many destinations.

“Kids are out of school, and everybody is scheduling vacations right now,” he said. “Even without a fare war, graduations and weddings make this a very attractive month to fly.”

Alaska introduced 80-passenger regional jet service to Seattle, countering Delta’s inroads at Sea-Tac airport.

“From what I gathered,” Brienza said. “Passengers are loving it and filling it up.”

After a decline in 2017, overall airport operations — including air taxi, general aviation and military flights — were up 38.5 percent through April. With Million Air Medford’s 35,000-square-foot hangar due for completion late this fall, those numbers will likely go up. The more than 80 airport-owned hangars are 100-percent rented for the first time, as well.

The cargo center, to the south of the terminal, may soon have a new occupant.

Brienza said the airport is negotiating with an out-of-town aviation company planning to relocate.

“They are going to rent office and warehouse space,” he said. “But the company isn’t cargo related.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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