December 28, 1996 in Nation/World

November Airport Figures Frozen Ice Storm Breaks Record String, But Growth Pace Should Resume

Michael Murphey Staff writer

For the first time in 52 months, Spokane International Airport has reported lower passenger figures during a given month than it did the year before.

November’s passenger traffic was down almost 10 percent from activity during November 1995.

But airport officials say the November numbers are something of a fluke rather than a sign that the airport’s phenomenal four-year-long growth trend is coming to an end.

“It was just a quirk,” John G. Morrison, chief executive officer of Spokane airports, said Friday. “If you go down there right now, it’s a zoo.

“We believe that, even with all the bad weather we’re having, December will represent about a 10 percent gain over December of last year.”

Morrison said the combination of November’s wicked ice storm and an unusually late Thanksgiving accounted for the drop-off in passenger traffic.

During an eight-day period in November, 135 flights were unable to land at Spokane International Airport.

“And everything was just shut down during that time period,” Morrison said. “Businesses were closed, and that affected business travel.”

Additionally, because of the quirk in the calendar, the Sunday following Thanksgiving fell on Dec. 1. That Sunday, airport officials say, is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year. While those travelers were recorded in November 1995 statistics, they will fall in December’s numbers this year.

Aviation Daily, an industry trade journal, said Spokane International Airport grew faster than any other large airport in the country during 1995. Spokane was the 65th-largest airport in the United States, based on passenger traffic, according to the 1995 numbers.

The last time the passenger traffic figures at Spokane International declined in a month compared with that same month in a previous year was July 1992.

In the four years since, percentage increases in passenger traffic have registered in the double digits.

The growth boom was ignited by Morris Air’s entry into the Spokane market in the summer of 1992.

Morris drastically cut air fares, forcing other players in the market to match the lower costs. In the past, the larger, established airlines simply waited out the low-fare entrants into the market. When they went broke with their low fares, or adjusted their fares upward to survive, the higher prices were reinstated.

But when Morris arrived, the dynamics of the entire airline industry were changing. Carriers like Alaska Airlines were reinventing themselves by cutting costs drastically in order to make profits with lower fares.

Further, Southwest Airlines acquired Morris in late 1993. Southwest - the pioneer low-fare carrier - was the most profitable airline company of the 1980s. Its entry into the Pacific Northwest air market assured low fares here would remain a fixture.

In the meantime, the low fares had created an entire new flying market. People who used to drive found it cheaper to fly, and the Spokane passenger market exploded.

And Morrison doesn’t believe that explosion has yet played itself out.

The airport, he says, bases its budgets on projections from the airline companies that serve the Spokane market. When the figures are in, Morrison says, passenger traffic in 1996 will have been up at least 10 percent over 1995, and the airport is budgeting for comparable growth in 1997.

“Of course 1995’s figures were up 20 percent over 1994,” Morrison said, “so it is slowing down. But we are still clearly in the growth mode.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email