Peoria Journal Star Article
Its ridership totals beat rival Twin Cities for third month. BY: Omar Sofradzija
PEORIA - The Greater Peoria Regional Airport is defying a nationwide air travel slump while Bloomington-Normal's airport has been unable to shake the post-Sept. 11 travel malaise that is expected to linger through this year.
Peoria's growth topped its Twin Cities trival in air ridership for the third month in a row in February. Through the first two months of this year, Peoria air ridership is up by 5 percent compared with last year, while Bloomington is down by more than 14 percent, according to airport figures.
Peoria's growth comes despite the Federal Aviation Administration's annual commercial air travel forecast, released Tuesday, which anticiaptes a sharp drop in passenger volume to continue throughout the country this year.
The forecast predicts the annual number of air travelers nationwide, which fell by nearly 7 percent last year, to slip by another 4.7 percent in 2002. For a one-year period that began Oct. 1, 2001, the number of travelers was expected to drop 12 percent, to around 600 million people, compared with the preceding 12 months.
The FAA expects air travel to pick up again in 2003, with an anticipated ridership increase of 12.5 percent nationally that year.
"Regardless of the short-term decline in air traffic, our forecast unerscores the need for the government and the aviation industry to continue adding capacity to our system to meet the demand that will return and grow," FAA administrator Jane Garvey said in a prepared statement.
In February, Peoria served 32,422 passengers, an increase of almost 4 percent from last year and 770 more than Bloomington carried last month. In January and December, Peoria served 70 and 910 more people, respectively, than the Twin Cities airport.
Despite the slender margins, Peoria's tally is a vast improvement from previous years. Peoria trailed Bloomington in annual ridership by 90,878 people in 2000, and 43,440 last year.
In a prepared statement, Peoria interim airport director Mary DeVries attributed the drastic reversal in fortunes to "the quality of air serive, excellent customer service and great fares" in Peoria.
Concerted efforts as of late to improve service in Peoria followed years of growing passeger "leakage" to Bloomington. The Twin Cities airport had been one of America's fastest-growing airports through much of the late 1990's, taking Peoria's long-held title as home to central Illinois' most-used airport for the first time in 1999.
Helping Peroia's totals was the fast growth of Delta Air Lines commuter affiliate Delta Connection. Last month - in just its seventh month of operations in Peoria - the carrier moved into third place among the River City's five airlines in market share, garnering almost 16 percent of all passengers, with 5,064 travelers in February.
Meanwhile, through the first two months of this year, AirTrain Airways served 21,449 passengers in the Twin Cities. That is a drop of almost 14 percent from the previous year for Bloomington's most-used airline and Delta's prime rival in the region.
At the nation's two busiest airports, Atlanta and Chicago O'Hare, traffic was down 6.1 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively.
Los Angeles International Airport suffered the second-biggest drop in commercial traffic among the nation's busiest airports in the five months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration reported Tuesday.
The 22.5 percent drop at LAX trailed only the whopping 58 percent decrease at Ronald Reagon Washington National Airport, which was shuttered far longer after the attacks than other airports because of its proximity to potential terrorist targets in the nation's capital.
The Air Transport Association, which represents airlines, released a report Monday predicting that industry losses would surpass $7 billion for 2001, even with the billions of dollars in federal grants approved by Congress after Sept. 11.