Increase in travelers bucks national trend
Tuesday February 03, 2004
By Matt Scallan
Although it was a tiny move, passenger traffic at Louis Armstrong International Airport last year posted the first increase since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought the air travel industry to a standstill.
The increase was about three-tenths of 1 percent, but airport officials said any increase compares favorably with a 2.7 percent decline nationwide, as reported by the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents airlines.
In all, 9.28 million travelers passed through Armstrong's terminals last year, up from 9.25 million in 2002.
Though last year's total was 6 percent less than in 2000, the airport's busiest year, Aviation Director Roy Williams is optimistic about this year.
"Based on the strong numbers we had in October, November and December, I'm expecting a strong percentage increase in the single digits this year," he said.
Armstrong was the nation's 40th-busiest airport in terms of the number of passengers boarding planes in 2002, the latest year for which comparable data are available, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Though Southwest Airlines, the airport's market leader with a 31 percent share, posted little growth, other carriers significantly boosted their passenger totals. AirTran showed a 13.2 percent
increase in passengers, followed by American and American Eagle, with a 12.9 percent increase.
Williams said that United Airlines' low-fare carrier, Ted, will begin service to Armstrong soon, and that he thinks Song, Delta Air Lines' entry into that market, will begin serving the airport next year as well.
Even though passenger traffic was flat, airlines' increasing use of smaller "regional jets" led to an 11 percent increase in takeoffs and landings at the airport in December and a 2.1 percent increase for the year. Regional
jets, which have 50 to 90 passenger seats compared with 150 on a traditional passenger aircraft, are cheaper to operate and can add flexibility to airline schedules.
The number of air carrier flight operations in New Orleans increased from 116,708 in 2002 to 119,127 last year.
The amount of air cargo passing through the airport in 2003 dropped 3.9 percent to 80,831 metric tons compared with 2002.