By Vicki Hillhouse, January 13, 2015, Walla Walla Union Bulletin
The all-time busiest month on record at the Walla Walla Regional Airport closed the all-time busiest year.
Air travel continued its ascent in Walla Walla, bolstered by a December that had the most passengers ever coming in and out of the airport, according to the latest figures.
Numbers generated through Alaska Airlines in its headquarters report tallied the number of passengers coming into Walla Walla at 36,313 for 2014. That’s up from 2013’s inbound passenger count of 33,454. It also exceeds the highest number on record in 2009, when 33,898 people flew into the community.
Correspondingly, the airport had its highest number of people flying out, too. For all of 2014, 36,272 people flew out from the airport. That was up from 33,050 in 2013, and from 33,430 during a record-setting 2009.
The growth provides some assurance of continued — possibly even enhanced — service after the community lost one flight and had been in danger of losing more several years ago.
“That trend — that line — is just continually going up from where we were at,” said airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund.
“Just a few short years ago we were a marginal market for Alaska Airlines, and we have changed that.”
She said the spike is likely attributable to a number of factors, including a recovering economy with more people traveling again, and focused marketing efforts with help over the last two years from a $250,000 federal Small Community Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
With a $50,000 local match, a total of $300,000 has been spent over the last two years promoting Walla Walla air service from Seattle to the Bay Area of California.
Historically the airport and Port of Walla Walla hadn’t designated concentrated funds to market much outside of the community, Skoglund said.
But that is changing.
Now that the federal money is gone, she said the airport is budgeting $15,000; the Port is budgeting $20,000; and Tourism Walla Walla has agreed to dedicate $15,000 for combined marketing of Walla Walla’s air service in 2015. Handled by Tourism, the funds will be focused on digital marketing campaigns in both the northern and southern California markets, she said.
December typically is the busiest month of the year for air travel. But last month was particularly busy, according to the figures.
In the last month of 2014, 3,501 people flew out of the airport. Another 3,252 flew in. The next closest December was in 2009, when 3,106 people flew into Walla Walla and 3,466 people flew out.
Skoglund said Alaska will likely be looking more specifically at the load factors. That’s the percentage of seats filled on the planes. The combined inbound and outbound average for 2014 was 74.48 percent, up from 70.01 percent in 2013.
In addition to marketing efforts, Skoglund said additional tourism activities in the community — ranging from food and wine events to college events — likely contribute to Walla Walla’s lure.
She hopes to be able to survey more passengers in 2015 to better quantify the numbers.
“We’ll just keep moving forward,” she said. “Upward and forward.”