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Fresno airport tops 1.4 million travelers for third straight year

Passengers retrieve their bags from the baggage claim area at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in this 2013 file photo. The Fresno airport topped 1.4 million passengers in combined arrivals and departures in 2015, the third straight year reaching that threshold.
Passengers retrieve their bags from the baggage claim area at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in this 2013 file photo. The Fresno airport topped 1.4 million passengers in combined arrivals and departures in 2015, the third straight year reaching that threshold. Fresno Bee file photo

Flight cuts by several airlines to and from Fresno Yosemite International Airport last year put a dent in overall passenger traffic through the airport. But 2015 marked the third consecutive year in which the airport topped 1.4 million passengers.

Fresno’s city airports director Kevin Meikle reported Friday that the airport handled 1,408,922 passengers last year, a combined total that counts domestic and international arrivals and departures by the airlines serving the city. International flights to and from Guadalajara, Mexico aboard Volaris and Aeromexico accounted for more than 149,000 passengers.

The 2015 passenger totals fell short of 2014’s record of about 1,443,000, Meikle said. “But we’ve been excited since we first hit 1.4 million back in 2013, and we’re happy that we’ve been able to maintain that through some of the industry changes we’ve been a part of.”

Among those changes were United Airlines dropping its flights to and from Las Vegas, Allegiant Air dropping its flights between Fresno and Honolulu, and Frontier Airlines pulling out of the Fresno market and discontinuing its service to Denver.

In addition, airlines serving Fresno completed their transition to all-jet service, replacing smaller turboprop airplanes with larger, more efficient jet aircraft.

On some routes, including Fresno-San Francisco and Fresno-Los Angeles, the transition to jets reduced the number of available flights that passengers could choose when booking tickets.

“We had the loss of those seats and that traffic, but other sectors were growing,” Meikle said. “If you strip away the anomalies we saw last year, the other airline service is growing.”

Alaska Airlines is adding a third daily flight from Fresno to San Diego in April, Meikle said. Starting next week, he added, the airline is adding a second daily flight to Portland, Oregon. In late 2015, Allegiant launched service from Fresno to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona.

Also, the two Mexican airlines providing international service to Guadalajara have boosted their service, with Volaris continuing to offer two flights on Sundays through the first half of this year and Aeromexico ramping up its weekly flights from four to six through the summer.

This year is off to a good start, Meikle added, with January posting an 8 percent gain over January 2015 and setting a record for the month. “It’s early, but it looks like 2016 could be another record year,” he said.

Passenger statistics represent an important component of income for the city-owned airport, Meikle said. “We live and die by passenger count,” he said. “It generates a lot of our revenue.  The more passengers we have, the more revenue we get.”

Airlines pay landing fees based on aircraft weight, and there also are passenger fees that airlines pay on a per-passenger basis in addition to what the companies pay for use of the terminal and ticket-counter rent. “Our rates and charges to the airlines have been stable,” Meikle said Friday. But other revenue sources are insulated from fluctuations in passenger traffic.

“Even with the slight dip in passengers last year, we’ve maintained our revenue stream compared to 2014,” he said. “The economy is improving, and whenever you have an improving economy, there is more of a propensity to spend money. You’re more likely to buy that sandwich at the airport, or they’re taking longer trips and parking longer.”

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