Regional Airports See Upswing as Passengers Return for the Summer
By SAMANTHA LEE
Ontario, Long Beach and Burbank airports, buoyed by rebounding ridership, lower gate rates and the growth of smaller airlines, have struck a series of deals boosting the number of flights.
This month, two Hawaii-based carriers, Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines, will begin daily service from Ontario and Burbank, respectively, to Honolulu. Meanwhile, JetBlue, already developing a strong following with its nonstop service to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, last week announced that it would increase its service out of Long Beach Airport to include service to Oakland, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
The moves reflect an ongoing effort by the non-major carriers to consider alternatives to Los Angeles International Airport, which typically charges higher gate fees and taxes and is chronically congested, especially after Sept. 11.
“We realize LAX cannot hope to serve all regional air service needs,” said Tom Winfrey, a spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates both LAX and Ontario. “It’s helpful that airlines are considering other locations.”
The number of passengers through LAX, still off substantially from the levels of a year ago, has been climbing. In March, the most recent data available, 4.8 million passengers passed through the facility, down 14.4 percent from the like period a year ago.
“Many of our customers would rather avoid the hustle and bustle and delays at LAX,” said Joe McClure, president of Montrose Travel.
Seeing that opportunity, Hawaiian and Aloha, both boutique airlines, chose secondary airports to strengthen their niche. “We were never interested in flying to LAX,” said Stu Glauberman, a spokesman for Aloha. “Our strategy is convenience.” (Hawaiian already has service out of LAX.)
Also attractive was Burbank’s proximity to Hollywood studios. “We deal with lots of entertainment industry people who have asked us to fly out of Burbank for the past year,” Glauberman said.
Burbank is Aloha’s fourth mainland destination, after Oakland, Orange County and Las Vegas. Flights to Vancouver are scheduled to begin mid-June.
Last month, the chairman of Hawaiian Airlines, John Adams, said he would consider selling the Honolulu-based carrier after he tries to increase the company’s stock price. Adams said plans include adding mainland destinations and making fleet adjustments. In March, a proposed merger with closely held Aloha fell through.