Southwest flights cut at Bob Hope

Bob Hope Airport officials announced this week that Southwest Airlines will be making major cuts to its fall schedule, but the airfield and the company have different explanations for the change.

Starting on Sept. 29, Southwest will eliminate 42 round-trip flights a week out of the airport. The change most likely is due to the airline selling aircraft acquired in its purchase of AirTran to Delta, said Mark Hardyment, the airport's director of noise and environment programs, during a meeting of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority on Monday.

"The divestiture of 717s from Southwest's fleet will put a short- and near-term pinch on Southwest's fleet and their ability to stretch that reduced-size fleet over the number of routes that they serve," Hardyment said.

But Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said on Wednesday that the adjustment was just a reaction to the customary drop in passengers during the fall months, which follow the peak summer travel season.

"In September and October, we traditionally see less traffic than in the peak travel months, and that's just simple seasonality," Hawkins said. "AirTran didn't really touch Burbank, never served that market — this is all about an adjustment to better fit passenger traffic we see at Burbank."

Whatever the reason for the cuts, they will take the daily number of Southwest flights at Burbank from 50 to 43, a drop of roughly 14%, and from 325 round-trip flights a week to 283, a decline of roughly 13%.

Right now, those 325 flights a week make up about 66% of the airport's roughly 492 scheduled round-trip flights.

Starting in October, the airport is scheduled for only 446 flights a week because of Southwest's cuts and because of four flights being eliminated by Alaska Airlines and US Airways.

Losing those flights hurts the airport because even if Southwest can maintain equal numbers of passengers on fewer flights, the airfield will lose out on landing fees, calculated by weight for every plane that lands at the airfield.

Based on the current schedule and fleet information for Southwest, airport spokesman Victor Gill said the airport stands to lose $5,214 per week while the cuts are in place.

All Southwest destinations will be affected, but not equally.

Denver will lose one Saturday round-trip flight, while Las Vegas will lose two flights every day except Saturday.

Two round-trip flights will be eliminated to Oakland every day Monday through Thursday, with three cut on Friday and one on Sunday.

Phoenix will lose one flight every day Monday through Thursday and two on Friday but will gain one on Saturday.

An extra Saturday flight will be added to San Jose but one flight will be cut every other day of the week.

Sacramento will lose one round-trip flight every day Monday through Thursday and two on Friday.

Gill said on Wednesday that this fall's flight reduction is more drastic than in the past.

In 2011, there was a moderate seasonal reduction in flights in October, Gill said. In 2012, the addition of Denver as a destination actually pushed the number of flights up in October.

"We're not ascribing a motive, we're simply observing this is a bigger drop than usual," Gill said.

However, Denis Carvill, the airport's deputy executive director of operations and maintenance/airline relations, said he thinks one factor in the decision may be how full Southwest's planes are at Bob Hope.

Southwest is operating at 60%-65% capacity on flights in Burbank, Carvill said during the authority meeting on Monday. However, most airlines operating at Bob Hope average around 80% capacity, he added.

Hardyment said Southwest will likely target reductions at airports such as Bob Hope where its load factors are lower.

"They'll be looking to those markets they serve and taking from those that are not performing as well as others until they are able to get their legs underneath them," Hardyment said.

Hawkins denied that the cuts were an effort to push up load factors, but did say this was first time since April 2012, and possibly even longer, that Southwest will be operating fewer than 50 flights a day out of Burbank.

"Economic performance is a huge arbiter of our presence at our airport," Hawkins said. "But this is about responding to the seasonal, and predictably so, shifts in travel patterns."

Hawkins said that Southwest will observe the market conditions at Bob Hope and likely begin adding flights back to the schedule in January, February and March.


Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.


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