Number of passengers increases

The number of passengers using Augusta Regional Airport is up 12 percent so far this year compared with last year. Lower fares and improved airline reliability are factors, said the airport's director of marketing, Diane Johnston.

"This has been the trend that's been going on for the last probably 21/2 years," she said. "The fares in our market have gone down significantly in the last couple of years. The reliability has really improved tremendously here. I think it's made a huge difference, and our passengers are starting to use the airport again."

The increase in activity could attract another airline to the market, she said.

Ms. Johnston said Augusta Regional has been trying to secure nonstop flights to New York and Washington, D.C. It currently has flights only to Charlotte and Atlanta.

Chances improve if the airport can prove it has the traffic to support these flights, she said.

"We do keep trying because we feel we would be successful in both New York and Washington, D.C.," Ms. Johnston said.

Augusta Regional is comparable in size to airports in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Gainesville, Fla.; and Panama City, Fla., Ms. Johnston said.

Gainesville Regional Airport just added two Delta flights a day, said airport spokeswoman Michelle Danisovszky. Both Delta and U.S. Airways are up in traffic, too, she said.

"Gainesville is not a leisure market; we're a business market," she said. "Gainesville has been somewhat recession resistant, which would be accurate with our enplanement data."

She also noted the presence of the University of Florida and its 50,000 students in Gainesville.

According to Augusta statistics as of the end of May, the number of passengers is up 23 percent for Delta-connection Atlantic Southeast Airlines, and flights for U.S. Airways Express are down 2 percent from last year.

"I think that what we're seeing there is (U.S. Airways) is starting to stabilize or maybe even drop a bit because Delta has really focused on improving their performance in our market," Ms. Johnston said. "A lot of passengers that were loyal to Delta and switched away for a while are perhaps giving Delta another try."

Delta passengers might also be taking advantage of low fares, she said.

"We're happy to see both our airlines doing well because that's what it takes. When they're successful, then other airlines start looking at your market," Ms. Johnston said.

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

AUGUSTA REGIONAL AIRPORT TRAFFIC

Year-to-date May 2009

Total enplanements 81,499

Total deplanements 78,287

Total passengers 159,786

YEAR-TO-DATE MAY 2008:

Total enplanements 72,702

Total deplanements 70,085

Total passengers 142,787

Source: Augusta Regional Airport

THE IMPACT

The increase could help Augusta Regional Airport's efforts to attract another airline to provide nonstop flights to New York and Washington, D.C.