Biz Buzz: US Airways to add flight to Phoenix in July and August

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport has announced US Airways will add a flight Sunday mornings to Phoenix in July and August. This is in addition to two United Express flights to Los Angeles, first in January and again in April of this year.

The additional United Express flights have increased the number of people flying out of the local airport.

Passenger traffic grew in March and April by 9.4 percent from the year before and 13.2 percent in May when compared to May 2009, according to a recent news release from airport director Janette Pell.

It’s a positive sign for the airport, which has seen a nearly 38 percent drop in air travel since 2005.

In May of that year, there were 15,946 passengers. This year, the May figures dropped to 9,912, according to airport data.

Considering growth in air travel is critical to the local economy, airport management and business leaders have been throwing lots of effort — including hiring a consulting group — over the last year into developing more air service in the county.

Recently, airport manager Richard Howell went to an Airports Council International North America JumpStart conference attended by airline executives in San Diego and had nine meetings with airlines to pitch for more service.

Howell said they are still working hard on United for direct service to Denver. He also is in ongoing discussions with Horizon, Continental, Frontier, Southwest and Delta about bringing their jets into the Central Coast region.

The big issue right now, he said, is that the airlines have parked many of their planes in the desert because of the decrease in flights.

Even if they could make money serving airports and want to increase flights, it’s too expensive for them at this time to get them flyable, Howell said.

The airport has been granted $500,000 by the federal government to use as revenue guarantees for an airline that would give the county airport a new destination.

The airport has been under fire by the county Board of Supervisors for holding more than $9 million earmarked for a new terminal and parking deck — that now has been postponed because of the drop in air service, which came as a result of high fuel costs and the recession.

Howell wants to hold on to the $9 million, saying he’s working on a proposal to show how they’re going to use the money.

“Those plans (for building the new facilities) are still out there,” he said. “If we start getting busier, they’re coming back.”

— Melanie Cleveland