Delta and Atlantic Southeast airlines, the operator of Delta’s regional connections, filled 90 percent of seats in June and July. US Airways flights had 86.3 percent of seats occupied in June, with more empty seats in July after the start of a nonstop flight to Washington, D.C., on July 11.
Full and nearly full planes became more common when American Airlines affiliate American Eagle discontinued its flight from Augusta to Dallas on Jan. 30, Augusta Regional Marketing Director Diane Johnston said.
“With American Airlines pulling out, we lost 100 seats per day in the market,” she said.
Through July, the total number of seats available from Augusta Regional was down 4.3 percent over a year ago.
Passenger traffic at the airport, however, has not changed. Travelers on American flights switched to Delta or US Airways flights, occupying seats that were previously empty.
The number of seats fluctuates each month but measures between 250,000 and 300,000, except for a low in February and a spike in April. Seat counts were lower for February to June compared with 2011. Seat counts in July were nearly the same as a year ago because of the addition of the US Airways flight to Washington.
“The majority of flights are chock full, except the end-of-day flights when there are some empty seats,” Johnston said.
She said Augusta’s numbers follow a national trend in the airline industry. Many airlines have begun retiring 50-seat regional aircraft, and the airports are left with fewer seats while waiting on larger aircraft.
“Nationwide, the airlines are really tightening up on their capacity,” Johnston said. “It’s not just us that’s going through this.”
Delta swapped one of Augusta’s 50-seat regional jets for a 70-passenger aircraft in August and started flying a 129-seat aircraft in mid-2011, Johnston said. The airport, however, needs more flights or larger aircraft to continue growing.
In 2011, more than 270,000 passengers flew on departing Augusta flights, an increase of nearly 100 percent over 2006. Johnston said the airport predicts passenger numbers will remain about the same this year.