Leap year hangover at Medford airport

Leap years are good for the Medford airport, but they're a hard act to follow.

Despite putting more passengers in the air per day during February, fewer travelers passed through the gates than they did in February 2016, which had one more day.

The 51,926 passenger total last month was the highest non-leap-year figure, but fell short of last year's record of 52,784 and represented a 1.6 percent drop.

"If you divide the passengers in 2016 by 29 days and the passengers in 2017 by 28, we were up per day," airport Director Bern Case said. "Leap year is always good for us, but we have to have at least 3 percent more the next year to make up for it."

A handful of United Airlines cancellations out of San Francisco didn't help.

Perhaps there will be more competition involving the Bay Area in the near future. Case met with representatives from Alaska Air Group, whose Rogue Valley flights are handled by Horizon Air, last week.

Alaska's acquisition of Virgin America, whose West Coast hub is in San Francisco, has led Seattle-based Alaska to expand activity out of the Bay Area. Last week, Alaska announced 13 new flights out of San Francisco.

"We were talking about both San Francisco and San Jose," Case said. "It was a pleasant conversation. There were no decisions; they're still adjusting to the merger. They're going to fill their planes at San Francisco. If they go to San Jose, it will be Horizon."

With Alaska gearing up to rotate regional jets into its mix, replacing the Q400 props now used on flights from Medford to Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle, Case is anticipating changes in the months ahead.

"When the new jets start arriving here, the first place we'll see them going is Los Angeles and then Seattle," he said. "It takes two or three years to rotate a fleet. The Bay Area is a good reach for the Q400s."

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air saw a 4.8 percent passenger increase last month, while Delta Connection rose less than 1 percent. United Express was down 5.2 percent and Alaska, which accounted for more than half of the fliers at the airport, declined less than 1 percent.

The airport has 18 daily departures, one less than a year ago, but 47 more available seats.

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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