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News Article - March 26, 2007

Southwest gets the credit for hike in air passengers  
  More than a decade ago, federal regulators adopted the term "the Southwest effect" to describe the way air fares plunged and passenger traffic soared each time Southwest Airlines started flying to a new city. Today, there's no better example of the phenomenon than what's happened at Philadelphia International Airport since Southwest came to town in May 2004, according to airport data.

   In 2006, for the second year in a row, Philadelphia set a record for passenger traffic, with all of the growth attributable to a 23 percent increase in Southwest customers. The airport had a total of 31.8 million passengers last year, and 31.5 million in 2005. Southwest, the airport's second-largest airline after US Airways, carried 3.2 million people in and out of Philadelphia last year, compared with 2.6 million in 2005, the data show.

   US Airways traffic was virtually flat last year, a time when it was getting rid of its older 737 jets and replacing them with smaller regional jets with fewer seats. US Airways had 20.2 million customers get on or off its large-jet and smaller-jet Express flights and America West flights in 2006, compared with 20.1 million in 2006. US Airways doesn't think the quality of its service here affected the number of passengers, spokesman Philip Gee said.

   There was no clear pattern in the passenger traffic reported by other airlines, with a few having large gains and others showing small declines. Southwest grew here last year in part because it started nonstop flights to two cities, Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville, and increased flights to eight cities where it already had nonstop service, spokeswoman Whitney Eichenger said.

   Southwest also started flying directly between Philadelphia and Dallas Love Field, with a stop in Houston, after repeal of the Wright Amendment that had restricted service from Dallas' secondary airport, she said. US Airways' results reflect the fact that, although it added flights to Portland, Ore., and to three cities in Europe, it continued to take older, larger planes with about 130 seats out of its fleet, replacing them with newer, more-fuel-efficient regional jets that carry 50 to 90 passengers, Gee said.

   The airline now has almost twice as many Express flights a day here as it does US Airways flights using larger jets. A few years ago, the airline operated roughly equal numbers of US Airways and Express flights. Despite the growth in the number of travelers, the number of planes landing and taking off at the airport declined a fraction, to 515,809 last year from 535,666 in 2005.

   The numbers made Philadelphia International the 10th-busiest airport in the world for takeoffs and landings last year, down one spot from 2005, according to records kept by the Airports Council International trade group. In passenger traffic, Philadelphia was 28th in the world in 2006 and 26th in 2005, the group said. To city aviation director Charles J. Isdell, the 2006 figures help justify two airport construction projects, one under way and one planned.

   Already under construction is an expansion of the bridge connecting Terminals D and E, where there will be one large security checkpoint for both concourses, and a new food court and other shops. That work is scheduled for completion in mid-2008, Isdell said. The airport and US Airways are in the early stages of planning an expansion of Terminal F, which is overburdened because it is being used for more flights than it had been designed for, Isdell added.

   "It's definitely being used at a level that was not contemplated when it was built" in 1999, he said. "US Airways is going to finance improvements there."

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer



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