Palm Springs International Airport is growing

Passenger traffic in Palm Springs is growing, though it remains highly seasonal. Photo: Paul Sableman, via Creative Commons.

Passenger traffic in Palm Springs is growing, though it remains highly seasonal. Photo: Paul Sableman, via Creative Commons.

Just about every airport of its size in the country is steadily losing passengers, but not Palm Springs International Airport.

According to a story today in the Desert Sun, passenger traffic was up 7 percent in the first three months of 2014, compared to the same period last year. Palm Springs even has seasonal service to the Midwest — Chicago on American Airlines — and the East Coast, with once-weekly flights to New York on Virgin America. It also has flights to Canada on Westjet.

Yes, it’s no LAX. But compared to L.A./Ontario International Airport, which is 74 miles to the west, Palm Springs is in pretty good shape. (There are a bunch of reasons Palm Springs is doing better, but one of them is that Palm Springs is more of a destination people want to travel to. Being a tourism hub has its benefits.)

PSP weatherThat’s the good news. The less good news? Palm Springs is one of the most seasonal destinations in the nation. Airlines add flights starting in the fall and start to drop them off in May. You probably know why. But in case you don’t, take a look at this week’s weather report, and you’ll figure it out. Palm Spring is not a happy place to be in the summer. In Yiddish, we call it a shvitz.

Here are some of the airlines now pulling back, according to the Desert Sun.

Virgin America already suspended its daily Palm Springs-to-San Francisco route and weekly service into John F. Kennedy International in New York, while American Airlines will close its nonstop route into Chicago in early June. Frontier Airlines will end its seasonal flights to Denver on Wednesday, said Kate O’Malley, manager of corporate communications for Frontier.

Alaska Airlines also alters its summer Palm Springs schedule, a spokeswoman told the newspaper.

“Palm Springs demand is very seasonal, with traffic shrinking substantially in the summer months,” Lindsey continued, via email. “In order to maintain acceptable performance levels and more accurately match supply to demand, we seasonally reduce our PSP flying during the summer.”

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The Los Angeles basin has relatively cheap airfare, according to federal data

Long Beach Airport has the cheapest fares in the nation by one metric. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer.

Long Beach Airport has the cheapest fares in the nation by one metric. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer.

Greater Los Angeles is a good place to buy domestic airfare, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The L.A. Basin had an average domestic roundtrip airfare of 383.55 in the fourth quarter of 2013, a number that has dropped 12.5 percent since 2000, when the average airfare was 438.41. (The fares are inflation adjusted, so 2013 numbers can be compared to 2000.) Among major metropolitan areas, only Chicago had a lower average airfare at the end of 2013.

Region Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2000 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2010 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2011 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2012 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2013 % change 2000-2013 % change 2012-2013
Greater New York City 544.78 396.73 415.22 412.92 434.12 -20.3 5.1
Greater Los Angeles 438.41 360.84 385.21 383 383.55 -12.5 0.1
Greater San Francisco 484.29 355.46 381.71 385.04 385.94 -20.3 0.2
Greater Chicago 466.59 352.56 359.02 368.16 382.22 -18.1 3.8
Greater Washington DC 461.3 360.97 387.9 378.33 384.01 -16.8 1.5
Greater Boston 504.09 343.82 360.87 375.03 369.21 -26.8 -1.6
Greater Dallas/Fort Worth 513.88 386.92 403.47 385.82 383.98 -25.3 -0.5
Greater Houston 452.8 397.8 431.69 446.52 436.84 -3.5 -2.2

The Los Angeles basin consists of Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena, Long Beach, Los Angeles Int’l, Ontario and Santa Ana.

Long Beach has the cheapest fares in the nation, with an average roundtrip fare of 248.63. You’ll probably see a lot of media coverage about this today. But just remember that Long Beach is a bit unusual. Flights from the airport are relatively short, mostly on the West Coast. And the main tenant, Jetblue, is considered a low-fare airline. The is a good thing for travelers who can use Long Beach. But this is not really a business plan other airports can borrow.

Here is our local, airport by airport chart.

Overall rank Region Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2000 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2010 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2011 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2012 Inflation Adjusted Average Fare 4Q 2013 % change 2000-2013 % change 2012-2013
1 Long Beach 402.39 248.86 236.8 237.34 248.63 -38.2 4.8
3 Burbank 251.7 280.7 308.72 285.92 281.23 11.7 -1.6
16 Ontario 341.32 317.74 337.94 343.45 335.2 -1.8 -2.4
33 Santa Ana 490.48 350.04 371.16 371.77 369.41 -24.7 -0.6
76 Los Angeles 479.7 393.96 420.56 415.95 414.88 -13.5 -0.3
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San Bernardino International Airport: A quick chat with the director

AJ Wilson has high hopes for San Bernardino International Airport. Photo: Rick Sforza, staff photographer.

AJ Wilson has high hopes for San Bernardino International Airport.  But presumably even he knows scheduled 747 service is not likely. Photo: Rick Sforza, staff photographer.

When San Bernardino International Airport started showing off its new more than $20 million international arrivals building last month, some airline industry analysts questioned the value of the new facility.

The airport, the former Norton Air Force Base, already had a domestic terminal. But that existing terminal accommodates no regularly scheduled commercial flights, so experts were quoted as saying they wonder whether the airport actually needed a new building international arrivals building.

I spoke this week with AJ Wilson, the airport’s executive director. He has read the criticism, such as in this KPCC radio piece, but Wilson said he is undeterred. The flights will come, he promises.

“I don’t feel that I need to argue with any so-called experts,” Wilson said. “We are carrying out a plan to market our airport and that’s what we intend to do.”

What’s this plan, you ask?

Like just about every airport head, Wilson wants to wow airline executives and persuade them to start flights in San Bernardino. He would not tell me which airlines he has spoken with, but he suggested that he understands that major and mid-major airlines — American, United, Southwest, Delta, Alaska, Virgin America and Jetblue — are probably off limits.

That leaves low cost carriers like Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier in the United States, and probably Volaris and Interjet in Mexico. But even those will be difficult to attract, especially since there’s another struggling airport nearby — L.A. Ontario International Airport — seeking the same type of tenants. Ontario recently attracted Volaris. 

“We are doing fine,” Wilson said. “We are having discussions with a number of airlines. It’s simply a matter of when the market is ready and airline business plans are able to consider service. We are just in those preliminary discussions.”

There has been some discussion that the fees charged to airlines at Ontario airport, which is about 23 miles away, are too high. Presumably, San Bernardino’s costs to airlines would be lower. But Wilson said it is too early to know what the cost structure would be for a new market entrant in San Bernardino.

“That’s not necessarily even determined at this point,” Wilson said. “We will work out business deals with the people when there are greater in-depth discussions.”

The good news, Wilson said, is that the general aviation portion of the airport is flourishing.

“Everybody thinks an airport is only passenger service,” Wilson said. “Last year was our highest year ever in number of operations. We are ahead of that by about 10 percent this year. We are experiencing growth.”

Here, a picture of the domestic terminal. Photo: Rick Sforza.

Here, a picture of the domestic terminal. Photo: Rick Sforza.

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Pictures: Take a peek inside San Bernardino International Airport

As we mentioned earlier today, San Bernardino International Airport finished construction of a new $20 million international arrivals building. It was built even though the existing facility doesn’t have a single scheduled commercial flight. And of course, there’s another underused airport – L.A/Ontario — 23 miles away.

Staff photographer Rick Sforza took some photos of the airport. They’re worth a look, if only to see a photo of a retired American Airlines 727. (Photos above are the domestic terminal, while photos below are the international one.)

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Have you ever heard of San Bernardino International Airport?

A rendering of the U.S. Customs facility at San Bernardino International Airport. Credit: J.R. Miller and Associates.

A rendering of the U.S. Customs facility at San Bernardino International Airport. Credit: J.R. Miller and Associates.

San Bernardino International Airport near Los Angeles unveiled its brand new, $20.5 million international terminal last week.

This is not a joke.

An airport you’ve probably never heard of — one without a single scheduled airline now serving it — is dreaming big. (If you have heard of the airport, it might be because its former developer faced conspiracy charges related to construction.) San Bernardino’s airport is located about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles and 23 miles east of L.A./Ontario International Airport, which is having its own problems attracting passengers.

My colleague Joe Nelson described San Bernardino’s new building like this:

The 40,000-square-foot, three-story terminal features entry via a jet bridge that should be arriving at the airport within the next two weeks, said A.J. Wilson, the airport’s executive director. It also includes a spacious passenger area, a baggage claim carousel area, administrative offices on two floors, agricultural and customs inspections stations, detention and interview rooms, and a computer and communications center.

Perhaps there’s some opportunity to attract more general aviation tenants, but I’m a bit confused at why San Bernardino thinks it needed a $20.5 million international terminal. Nelson’s story suggests the airport will try first with commercial flights to Mexico, but let’s remember that Ontario airport has tried the same approach, with very limited success.

Another of my colleagues, Jim Steinberg, wrote a follow-up story quoting skeptical experts.

“What market niche are they (SBIA) trying to fill?” John J. Keady, president of Playa del Ray-based Keady Transportation Consulting told Steinberg. Keady said there is no “unseen latent groundswell of demand” that the new terminal will serve.

But San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris told Steinberg he is optimistic.

“What we have to offer is a new articulation…with a state-of -the-art, high-tech terminal,” Morris said. “This has to be attractive to international carriers as an end destination.”

If you’re wondering, San Bernardino International Airport is the former Norton Air Force Base, which closed in 1994. It has a single 10,000 foot long runway.

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