Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sky Harbor sees the biggest drop in passengers since 2009

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had a lot of things to brag about in 2016, from unveiling the first phase of the newly remodeled Terminal 3, new flights both domestic and international, and city council approved millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements.

But it can't brag about the passengers.

Passenger activity at Sky Harbor dropped 1.4 percent in 2016. That's the first time the airport has reported a passenger decline since 2013 and the biggest decline since 2009.

While Terminal 2 saw a big bump in departing and arriving passengers (15.2 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively), Terminal 4 — which accounts for more than 80 percent of all airport traffic — saw a 2.4 percent decline in departing passengers and a 2.3 percent decline in arriving passengers.

International passengers dropped dramatically as well: 13.4 percent fewer passengers departed and 11.8 percent fewer passengers arrived.

The culprit? It's possible it could be the fact we didn't host the Super Bowl in 2016, but it's also American Airlines.

Once the Dallas-based airline merged with Tempe's U.S. Airways, what was Phoenix's long-term relationship turned into a friends with benefits scenario.

American minimized the size of its planes, moved portions of its workforce out of Phoenix and stopped service to several destinations. And while the airlines did add new service, those flights were usually to smaller airports, which left American Airlines with a 9.3 percent drop in passengers at Sky Harbor in 2016, with 172,835 fewer passengers.

That's more passengers lost than all of Alaska Airlines' and Frontier Airlines' passenger traffic combined in 2016 at Sky Harbor.

Nonetheless, American is committing to the idea that Sky Harbor is still a priority.

"Phoenix remains an important hub for American Airlines," spokeswoman Polly Tracey told the Phoenix Business Journal in October.

Ironically, Spirit Airlines had the biggest passenger drop out of all the airlines at Sky Harbor. But that airline is operating out of Terminal 2, which had the biggest bump in passenger traffic overall.

And while it is adding a second London flight, British Airways saw a 3.3 percent drop in passengers.

Meanwhile, the major airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta all saw passengers increase, with LAX raising a record eight percent to almost 81 million.

It's not all bad news though: Frontier Airlines saw a massive 124 percent increase; Boutique Air had a 59 percent increase in Terminal 2; and Volaris had a 53.2 percent increase.

City leaders constantly tout Sky Harbor as the biggest economic driver in the Valley, so while the numbers may not be as great as previous years, not all hope is lost.

"It's the largest economic engine we have in the Valley and it's one of the busiest airports in the country," City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, who who chairs the Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee, told the Phoenix Business Journal in October. "We want travelers to continue to invest in Phoenix."

(Steven Totten - Phoenix Business Journal)

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