U.S. Airport Traffic Fell Dramatically in 2009

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Last year, air travel numbers in the U.S. dropped to new lows. Out of the 50 largest U.S. airports, only four showed growth in passenger traffic, according to statistics from the Department of Transportation.
Nearly 704 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines last year, a 5.3 percent drop from 2008. The number of flights also dipped 6.6 percent from the previous year.

Of the top 50 airports, Cincinnati faced the worse traffic decrease, due in large part to Delta cutting service last year. Just this morning, the carrier announced they would be consolidating flight operations further, resulting in 800 lost jobs at the airport, according to local news station WCPO.

In the top 20 airports, only San Francisco International saw an increase in traffic last year. USA Today reported today that the increase from 15.8 million in 2008 to 16 million in 2009 was due to low cost carriers expanding service at the airport, as well as United Airlines adding more flights.

Other airports reporting growth were Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, and Milwaukee-all airports that house competing low-cost carriers.

Detroit Metro was the only international airport that saw a double-digit decline, at 10.1 percent. Additionally, Las Vegas saw a decrease of 7.8 percent, and traffic at Chicago O'Hare fell 7.4 percent.

In its annual forecast, the Federal Aviation Administration predicted air travel will begin rebounding in 2010 and grow slowly over the next two decades. The FAA predicts a 0.5 percent increase in air traffic in 2010, and an average growth of 2.5 percent per year until 2030. The agency also predicted relatively small increases in airfare over the next two decades, but warned more flights will likely crowd busy airports-operations at the 35 busiest U.S. airports are expected to increase 60 percent by 2030.

Still, February storms along the East Coast halted early recovery for airlines in 2010. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 5th that Southwest lost $15 million in passenger revenue due to flight cancellations, and U.S. Airways lost $30 million. Luckily, both airlines still saw an increase in traffic in February over the same time last year.
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