Duluth airport traffic down 13 percent in 2008Despite the decline, the airport retained its position as Minnesota’s second-busiest terminal. Airport and airline officials said they had expected a traffic decline amid the poor economy.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
The number of people who used Duluth International Airport in 2008 dropped 13.2 percent compared with the previous year. Despite the decline, however, the airport was able to retain its position as Minnesota’s second-busiest terminal.
More than 303,000 travelers flew into or out of Duluth in 2008, compared with nearly 298,000 people who used Rochester International (Minnesota’s third-busiest airport) during the same year.
Brian Ryks, director of the Duluth Airport Authority, said he had expected traffic to slide in 2008 and was pleased to finish the year above the 300,000-passenger mark.
He said many businesses have tightened up travel budgets.
“When times are tough, it’s one of the first places they cut back,” Ryks said.
Tammy Lee Stanoch, vice president of corporate affairs for Delta Air Lines, confirmed that business travel has dropped off considerably. Not only are employers sending fewer workers on trips, but they’re now often flying coach rather than business class. This development has hit Delta and other carriers squarely in the pocketbook.
“We figure that about 25 percent of our customers account for about 75 percent of our business, and most of those people are business travelers,” Stanoch said.
Amy Rutledge, communications manager for Minnesota Power in Duluth, said the company routinely flies staff in coach class these days as it looks for ways to do business more cost effectively.
“Travel is definitely part of the equation,” Rutledge said.
Duluth is far from alone in seeing its traffic wane. Rochester’s passenger count slipped 6.7 percent in 2008, and St. Cloud Regional Airport experienced a 20.8 percent drop in travelers for the year.
The 34 million people who used Minneapolis-St. Paul International, the state’s largest airport, in 2008 represented a 3.1 percent decline from the previous year.
“I think a lot of people have been putting off vacation plans because they’re worried about their jobs,” said Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
In addition to the economy, Ryks blames Duluth’s eroding numbers on a couple of other factors: a reduction in the number of airplane seats available locally and the lack of competition in the local market.
In particular, Ryks regrets the loss last year of a daily Northwest Airbus A319 flight out of Duluth. Delta, which bought Northwest last year, currently flies five daily flights between Duluth and the Twin Cities and 2 daily flights between Duluth and Detroit.
Ryks said Delta recently revealed plans to offer another flight out of Duluth in 2009, but it’s still the only carrier providing scheduled daily service out of Duluth.
Midwest Airlines offered service between Duluth and Milwaukee for about nine months during 2007, and Ryks said it generated higher traffic.
“When we had Midwest in addition to Northwest flying out of Duluth, you saw more people using our airport, because there were more options being offered and we were more price competitive,” he said.
Ryks observed that at least one other airline seems to have found a niche in Duluth. Although it doesn’t offer daily service, Allegiant Airlines operates four flights weekly between Duluth and Las Vegas and has consistently been filling 90-plus percent of its seats.
In 2008, the carrier handled nearly 29,000 travelers in Duluth — up 7 percent from the previous year.
Ryks said Allegiant has entertained the possibility of also offering service to Orlando, Fla., and/or Phoenix, Ariz., in the future.
He said the airport also continues to talk with other carriers about the potential for future service to Duluth. But he noted: “Most airlines are in contraction — not expansion — mode right now.”