Medford airport has its best March in five years

The Medford airport had its busiest March in five years and second-highest number of passengers for that month as activity continued to trend ahead of 2012.

The airport's four carriers reported 50,343 travelers passed through the gates during the month, a 4.6 percent gain over March 2012, boosting the three-month count to 134,371, a 2.85 percent year-over-year increase.

The 50,420 passengers in 2008 remains the March record.

That upward trend likely won't be affected by the federal sequester-related reductions in the number of air traffic controllers nationally. Even as many of the nation's busiest airports saw three- and four-hour delays Monday, Medford experienced little impact.

"We only get a ripple effect," said Airport Director Bern Case. "We always get that ripple if there is fog or some other reason for delaying flights out of San Francisco."

The FAA made no cuts in the number of air traffic controllers or the hours of operation in Medford, he said.

"Where we usually see the result of something like this is midday to late afternoon, Case said. "If a flight gets here late, it departs late. Even if the turnaround time is the same as regular, it can cause departure delays. It usually gets worked out later in the day."

The impact on flights from Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle has been minimal, he said.

"I've been pleased with what I've seen for April so far and the additional summer flights haven't kicked in yet," Case said. "It's shaping up to be a good year so far."

United Express saw an 18.7 percent jump in passenger activity, while Alaska Air Group's Horizon Air unit saw a 5.8 percent rise. Delta Connection fell off 2.6 percent, while Allegiant Air, which cut trips to the Bay Area, saw a 17.3 percent decline.

Even with one fewer daily departure, the numbers have improved, Case said, in part because there are more 70-passenger planes and fewer 50-passenger aircraft.

He attributed the numbers to a strengthening economy.

"It was really close to being a record," Case said. "I think the economy is coming back. Things are gradually getting just a little better. I don't know if we can maintain this pace, but if you apply our 2.85 (percent) improvement across the rest of the year that would project to 660,000 passengers."

The record year for local air travel was 2007, when there were 647,471 passengers.

"The one part that is giving me a little anxiety is that last August and September were just off the chart," Case said. "That will be hard to beat."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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