Industry factors cut BNIA passenger count 10%

July 28, 2014 Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 7:55 AM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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Industry factors cut BNIA passenger count 10%

July 28, 2014 Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 7:55 AM EDT

A combination of factors, led by mergers and consolidation in the aviation industry, has led to a decrease in flights and the number of passengers at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

But, at the same time, passenger counts at Niagara Falls International Airport, serviced by a pair of low-cost, limited service airlines, are spiking.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport, through the first half of the year, 1,153,604 outbound passengers compared with 1,255,365 it handled last year, a 10.21 percent drop. Decreases were reported in every month this year, according to statistics compiled by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates both airports.

Does that mean that for the first time in nearly a decade, the Buffalo airport might handle less than 5 million total inbound and outbound passengers?

NFTA officials don't think so.

"Going forward, it is still too early to predict," said Doug Hartmayer, NFTA spokesman. "What's going on is not indicative of our airport operations, but more about the nature of the aviation industry."

The Buffalo airport is feeling the effects of the USAirways/United Airlines merger and Southwest's acquisition of Airtran. The Southwest/Airtran deal has resulted in less daily flights between Buffalo and Atlanta.

USAirways and United, recently dropped seven of its weekly flights between Buffalo and Washington's Dulles International Airport and one of its weekly flights between BNIA and Newark International Airport.

Additionally, some of the flights have seen smaller aircraft take over the service. Larger 737s are being replaced by smaller, regional jets.

NFTA statistics show, that in June, there was a 7.8 percent drop in outbound seating capacity at BNIA, falling by 5,268 seats to 62,351 last month.

"We are seeing some airline constrictions that has led to less available seats and some destinations cut back," Hartmayer said.

The total number of flights handled at the airport in June back up Hartmayer's observation.

In June 2013, the airport handled 3009 outbound flights. Last month, it dropped 13.68 percent to 2675 outbound flights.

Even some of the airport's busiest airlines are reporting drops in passenger counts.

Southwest, which handles more than 30 percent of the airport's traffic, reported a 15.59 percent drop in outbound passenger counts, falling from 73,365 in June 2013 to 61,931 last month. (The Dallas-based airline also reported a 77 percent jump in profit in the second quarter - a record.)

JetBlue saw a 13.21 percent decrease in outbound passenger counts, dropping from 37,408 last June to 32,467 last month.

Several factors point to a potential turnaround in the coming months including a traditional increase in outbound flights as the year progresses and more Canadians opting to fly out of the airport, especially as Toronto's Pearson International Airport is considering adding new landing fees and taxes that will increase in higher ticket prices, which likely will send more Southern Ontario residents across the border to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Canadians account for nearly 45 percent of BNIA's passenger count and 88 percent of those using Niagara Falls International Airport.

Outbound passenger counts at NFIA, serviced by Spirit and Allegiant airlines, rose by more than 10 percent, rising from 54,363 in June 2013 to 59,816 last month.

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