EL PASO, Texas (AP) — City officials are scrambling to find ways to attract more travelers and flights to El Paso International Airport as the economic downturn has led to a decline in passengers and to route cancellations.
The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/15RPoIj ) reported Sunday that city officials cite a 15 percent decline in the number of passengers at the airport since 2010.
Monica Lombrana, the city's director of aviation, said Dallas-based Southwest Airlines — the carrier with most flights serving the airport — has announced its direct flights to San Diego will be canceled. Southwest recently dropped nonstop service from El Paso to Albuquerque, N.M.
El Paso is not alone in the struggle to bring more passengers and routes, as small and midsize airports have been affected by the industry's increasing fuel costs, mergers and shrinking profits.
In a study provided by a consultant to the El Paso airport, the city lost 10 percent of its traffic between 2008 and 2011. By comparison, the Albuquerque airport traffic fell 12 percent and Reno, Nev., airport traffic dropped 15 percent. From 2008 to 2012, Tucson had nonstop service destinations fall nearly 50 percent, while El Paso lost 30 percent.
El Paso's geographic isolation and no close alternatives makes it more attractive for travelers to fly in and out of the airport. However, local officials are looking into other ways to attract more business. It costs $48 million per year to taxpayers to operate the airport.
"People are going to need to travel out of El Paso by air," said Brent Bowen, professor and head of aviation technology at Purdue University. "And unlike some smaller airports that are an hour or two away from major airports, El Paso is not in that situation."
El Paso leaders say the West Texas city has a large number of federal agencies. City officials have spoken with Southwest and plan to meet with other carriers to try to secure additional routes, such as direct service to the Washington, D.C. area. Lombrana said Washington is the most popular destination that the airport does not have direct service to for El Paso travelers.
Airport officials said they also plan to double, to $50,000, the matching incentive given to airlines for marketing when they add a new, nonstop destination that departs at least five times a week.
Another incentive would be to reduce landing fees and the per-passenger airport tax that airlines must pay. El Paso's is below the national average.