After Grant, Airport Reports High Passenger Numbers

combined headerbw

Winter 2013

After Grant, Airport Reports High Passenger Numbers

An airport is a key piece of a city's infrastructure, and thrives on the business of passengers. While freight shipping is also a big business, passengers remain the driving force behind most commercial airlines. The busiest airport in the United States, located near Atlanta, Georgia, accommodates more than 260,000 passengers per day, and 95 million per year. Walla Walla Regional Airport is much smaller, but does a thriving business in passenger and cargo transport in the Pacific Northwest. Approximately 32,000 passengers passed through Walla Walla's airport in 2012, an increase of 38 percent since 1996. Although these numbers aren't yet reflected on the Walla Walla Trends site, numbers are up even more in 2013, according to Port Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller.

Schneidmiller said passenger numbers are up 4.2 percent YTD and 14.8 percent as of July 2013. The positive trends have continued throughout the year: total passengers for 2013 thus far are at 54,277, according to airport manager Jennifer Skoglund. She estimates passenger numbers will hit about 65,400 by the end of 2013, an improvement from 2012.

Walla Walla airport previously had its weekday flights reduced on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and this year they jumped back up to accommodate an increase in passengers. Dealing with a smaller number of flights and carriers is one of the challenges facing a small airport, he said. The Tri-Cities airport is only 50 miles away and since it's bigger, passengers have more choices in carriers and flights than they do in Walla Walla.


Another challenge the airport deals with consistently is flight timing, Schneidmiller said. Only a few flights regularly come in and out of the airport, and there are big gaps between their departures and arrivals.

"[If someone] wants to fly in that morning from Seattle and conduct a full day of business in Walla Walla, they're not going to be able to do that," Schneidmiller said. "They'd have to fly in the night before. It's kind of a scheduling challenge."

The airport's improvement in numbers may be owed to advertising funded by a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Skoglund told the Union-Bulletin in August that grant funds of $250,000, matched by local sources at $50,000, were being used to advertise to digital and print markets in the Seattle and San Francisco areas, where the airport hopes to drum up more business.

"We need to improve our load factor before Alaska Airlines considers getting more flights into our market," Schneidmiller said.

He believes that is possible - Walla Walla's charm as a wine country community is marketable to many outside its borders, he said.

6 10 CountyGraph