Airlines at Bob Hope Airport cut the number of available seats by 7.2% in January in an effort to wring as much as they can out of a continued drop in the amount of passengers, officials reported this week.
The result is fuller planes leaving the airfield, even as the overall number of passengers using Bob Hope continues to decline, leading to more efficient airline operations, officials said.
There were 340,954 passengers using the airport in January, down from 353,936 for the same period last year, according to the latest figures released on Monday. But airlines cut the number of available seats by 40,000 over the same period.
Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at the airport, was able to use the strategy to increase the percentage of sold seats per jetliner by 4.3% in January compared to the same period last year, according to the report to the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
“We’ve been in a two-year renaissance in optimizing how we organize planes and people,” said Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins.
During that time, the airline has been working to eliminate unproductive flights in order to fine-tune its schedule, he added.
“Right now, it just didn’t make sense to fly flights with only 30 to 40 people,” he said. “We got the schedule about as thin as we can right now, but fuel prices will prove to be the variable.”
And there’s still room for new, in-demand destinations such as the recent addition of Denver, starting in August, to the airport’s roster of destinations, officials said.
“There might be fewer passengers, but the airlines are running a more efficient operation,” airport spokesman Victor Gill said.
This trend was similar for nearly all airlines that operate at Bob Hope Airport. Those that did not decrease their seat numbers saw a drop in how close their planes were filled to capacity, according to the report.
“[Airlines] get good revenue yields in Burbank,” Gill said. “There’s a favorable profit margin here.”
American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said the numbers out of Burbank were consistent with the airline’s domestic figures across the country.
“Domestic capacity and domestic demand are very similar to what they were a year ago,” he said.
Although American has operated the same number of flights out of Bob Hope Airport for the past several years, authority figures show a 6.1% drop in seats filled. Nationally, the airline has small increases in capacity and miles traveled by passengers.
“Last year at this time, we were just starting our way upward from arguably the worst part of the recession in late 2009,” Smith said. “You can say we’re still in a hole, but you have to remember what you’re comparing it against.”
Despite the leaner times, airport authority officials say the figures are within what they had budgeted for.
After the first month of increasing parking fees by $1, revenue jumped to $1.57 million, similar to what it was in 2009. But that money has been earmarked to pay for litigation with Lockheed Martin over who should pay for contamination of underground water supplies.
The airport authority last month agreed to pay $2 million to settle with Lockheed Martin in exchange for a guarantee from the aerospace company that it will cover the cost of what could be an $108-million cleanup of contaminated groundwater under a portion of the airport.
The airport will continue to charge the increased parking fee for several years in order to cover legal costs and the $2-million settlement, airport authority Executive Director Dan Feger said.
“We are tracking very closely to what we budgeted,” said Feger. “And that’s a good thing.”