Passenger traffic at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in 2015 is off the record pace set last year.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that from January through April (the most current statistics available), 181,210 passengers flew on domestic flights from Fresno’s airport. That’s about 4% fewer than the nearly 189,000 passengers reported for the same period last year. And it corresponds to a significant reduction in the number of flights that are being offered by airlines from Fresno — 3,378 departures in the first four months of 2015, compared to 4,132 for the same period of 2014, or a dropoff of more than 18%.
The reductions reflect the loss of one air carrier in January after Frontier Airlines dropped its nonstop flights between Fresno and Denver and pulled completely out of the Fresno market, as well as changes by other carriers to their schedules and operations to create an overall reduction in the number of flights and capacity. The total number of seat-miles (a measure of capacity used by the transportation industry) out of Fresno was down from about 129.7 million in early 2014 to less than 117.1 million this year, a reduction of about 10%. A 50-seat airliner flying 100 miles represents 5,000 seat-miles, while the same airliner on a 200-mile flight represents 10,000 seat-miles.
Before SkyWest Airlines dropped its Fresno-Las Vegas service last summer, its 35 weekly flights to Sin City represented 18.7% of its schedule from Fresno.
SkyWest Airlines is the largest airline serving Fresno, contracting with United Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines to provide flights under their brands to cities in the western U.S. Last fall, Utah-based SkyWest announced that it was discontinuing its United Express service to Las Vegas — a route that accounted for 35 of the 187 weely flights offered by SkyWest at that time.
Wes Horrocks, a SkyWest spokesman, said the company has “no immediate plans” to re-enter the Fresno-Las Vegas market, “but that’s something we continually look at.”
SkyWest has been making a transition of its fleet to an all-jet lineup and getting rid of its smaller, slower and aging 30-seat Embraer 120 turboprop airplanes — a conversion that Horrocks said was completed in May. And by going to larger aircraft, SkyWest has also adjusted its schedule.
In February, SkyWest made 28 weekly flights from Fresno to Los Angeles, including 20 on the turboprops. As of this week, the airline is making 35 weekly flights to Los Angeles between its United Express and American Eagle flights, all on jet aircraft. SkyWest’s schedule of flights to San Francisco has shrunk since earlier this year, however, from 32 weekly flights under the United Express banner (all but seven on the Embraer turboprop airplanes) to 20 weekly flights now on the regional jets.
Flight frequency “is something that is very specific to each market,” Horrocks said. “But it’s been our goal to ensure as little change in overall capacity as possible and to have the same number of seats available” even if fewer flights are offered on a route. “If a market needs more service, we have the ability to add flights.”
Fresno’s director of aviation says the airport has been talked with airlines about filling gaps on the Las Vegas route left by SkyWest’s pullout.
Kevin Meikle, Fresno’s director of aviation, acknowledged that the moves by Frontier, Allegiant and SkyWest have sent passenger numbers lower. “But we’re really holding our own, when you strip away those three anomalies,” he said. “The number of flights are down because we’re seeing larger aircraft with more seats, and our load factors have grown. … More people are filling the planes.”
Meikle said the airport has been talking with airlines about picking up some of the slack on the Las Vegas route following SkyWest’s pullout.
With SkyWest out of the propeller-airplane business, the only flights still running on turboprops are Alaska Airlines’ trips beween Fresno and San Diego. But those are coming to an end soon. Alaska Airlines’ flight timetable shows that its final flight with a deHavilland Dash 8 / Bombardier Q400 turboprop out of Fresno will be on the morning of Aug. 23 to San Diego, marking the end of commercial propeller-driven airline service at Fresno Yosemite International. Starting with the evening flight on Aug. 24, the San Diego flights will be aboard Canadair CRJ 700 jets.
Another change since last year was Allegiant Air’s decision last summer to abandon its Boeing 757 jet service from Fresno and several other mainland cities to Honolulu, leaving Las Vegas and Los Angeles as the airline’s only routes to Hawaii.