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Passenger numbers on a hot streak at WW airport

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Air travel soared to another record in October at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.

A heftier flight schedule that will run through the end of the year grew passenger traffic by 25.7% over last year, according to numbers from commercial carrier Alaska Airlines.

“I was tickled with these results,” Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund said.

“If the flight is in the market, the results are showing people will use it.”

Skoglund said she hopes the increase will demonstrate rising support from the community so the airline eventually offers a three-flight round-trip schedule every day except Saturdays when air travel is slower.

“This shows that Walla Walla is supporting commercial air service,” she said.

During the month of October, typically one of the year’s busiest months for air travel, 4,694 people departed from the airport. That compares to 3,735 people flying out last October.

The number of passengers flying in was even greater last month, with 4,800 people making a landing in Walla Walla. That number represents a 35.9% jump from the corresponding month in 2018, when 3,533 people flew into town.

Load factors — the measure of seating capacity filled with passengers and the indicator the airline most considers when calculating profitability — was also celebrated by the airport.

Inbound and outbound load factors combined averaged for 81.5%, a figure that will certainly please the airline, Skoglund said.

The numbers over the last several months represent a rebound from a turbulent start of the year for air travel. With weather and cancellation setbacks the first two months, recovery was slow until August.

Now Skoglund believes Walla Walla could continue its streak of history making numbers with a record 2019.

During October and November of 2018, the airline reduced its daily flight schedule in Walla Walla to two per day.

“This year, they’ve kept it longer for us,” Skoglund said.

Three daily round trips will be offered four days a week through Jan. 6, she said.

Furthermore, a schedule change that was initially expected to create some hardship for corporate travelers has been adjusted by the airline. The final landing of the day that was to leave Seattle at 11:15 p.m. and touch down in Walla Walla at 12:13 a.m. has been changed.

After being alerted to the hardship by local Air Travel Coalition head Kip Kelly, the airline has made the adjustment to a 9:25 p.m. Seattle departure and 10:23 p.m. Walla Walla landing four days a week.

The schedule starts in Walla Walla with 5 a.m. departures through March 18 and final landings within a 10-minute spread in the 10:20 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. timeframe, depending on the month.

Skoglund said she expects a return of the three-flight schedule four days a week starting again March 19, 2020.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.