Allegiant Air officials say they are pleased with their business at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, and passenger figures compiled by the airport authority show that they have reason to be happy.
Although traffic at the east Mesa airport varies seasonally, Allegiant’s passenger numbers in the first half of this year have been sharply higher in a year-over-year comparison, the authority said.
“They continue to increase their destinations, and each time they do, they sell out their flights,” said airport spokesman Brian Sexton. “And people enjoy flying out of Gateway. We are getting feedback from customers that they enjoy the experience — easy parking, short lines.”
But the lines aren’t as short as they used to be, and the Gateway Airport Authority is preparing an expansion of the Charles L. Williams Passenger Terminal — estimated to cost about $6 million — that could be under construction by next month.
The expansion will add two gates, bringing the total to six.
In the first half of this year, a total of 294,334 passengers arrived and departed through the airport, up 55 percent from 189,992 in the same period last year. Because Allegiant was the only airline with regularly scheduled passenger service during both periods, the figures accurately reflect Allegiant’s traffic.
The figures don’t include charter flights.
Allegiant began service at Gateway in October 2007 with flights to eight destinations. Today, the Las Vegas-based carrier flies to 15 destinations, and will added a 16th — Grand Island, Neb. — in October.
The airline focuses on service to vacation destinations such as Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa from small communities further north that don’t have service from major carriers.
The strategy has been a winner for Allegiant Travel Co., which reported an 800 percent profit increase in the second quarter - a time of economic recession when most airlines were struggling.
Phoenix-Mesa has become a key hub for the airline, said Vice President of Planning Robert Ashcroft.
“Phoenix-Mesa has from the very start exceeded our (traffic) expectations by a wide margin,” he said in a written response to questions posed by the Tribune.
Ashcroft said one of the biggest surprises has been the amount of traffic generated by the Phoenix-Mesa area. The company’s plan was to tap the leisure market for residents in colder climates wanting to take winter vacations in the sunny south, but he said about 30 percent of Allegiant’s Gateway passengers are Valley residents heading north. That has caused summer traffic to be higher than anticipated, he said.
“We were delighted with the demand we had in summer 2008,” he said. “It was one of the things that helped us stay profitable as a company last year when fuel prices were so high.”
He said the airline still will fly less this summer than during the winter, but the proportionate reduction will be less than in the summer of ’08.
He also said the economic recession has not had as much impact at Gateway as in other parts of the company’s system.
“A lot of our flying to Phoenix-Mesa is from places in the Dakotas, the Great Plains, Montana, areas of the country that have been relatively resistant to the recession,” he said. “We think this has helped.”
Ashcroft said the airline plans further expansion at Phoenix-Mesa this fall, but he declined to reveal new destinations.
“All I can say is stay tuned.”