Losing Virgin hurts JWA numbers

JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT — Don't ever underestimate the consumer demand for flights to San Francisco from Orange County.

Since Virgin America pulled its four-times-a-day service from John Wayne Airport to San Francisco International Airport in May, the overall number of passengers has declined, particularly in July, which saw a 3.6% drop in passenger volume compared with July 2009, Jenny Wedge, a spokeswoman for the airport, said Wednesday.

"Passengers still have access to the San Francisco Bay area," Wedge said, "but it's not as busy as it's once been ever since they pulled out. But it was to be expected."

The airport served a total 792,532 passengers in July this year compared with 821,905 in July 2009, Wedge said.

So far, since January, the airport has served 5 million passengers and looks to be on track to serve more than 8 million customers in 2010, if the fall and winter months are good to Orange County, Wedge said.

In 2009, the airport saw 8.7 million passengers land and take off from the airport, Wedge said.

The busiest year for the airport ever, Wedge said, was in 2007, when 9.9 million passengers passed through its gates, and the worst was in 2008, when the mortgage crisis forced housing prices to fall and the stock plummeted, ushering in a dismal economy, she said.

"That year really threw us a curveball," she said, adding that only 8.9 million passengers used the airport.

And yet, there's always that chance that the airport won't match last year's number of passengers, with the winter being the traditional time when flights drop off significantly, Wedge said.

The 20th anniversary of the airport will be celebrated Sept. 16. That was the day the Thomas F. Riley Terminal, with its two A and B terminals, opened to the public, Wedge said.

As for the airport itself, it opened in 1952 with the introduction of its first commercial airlines, Bonanza Airlines, which flew to Los Angeles, San Diego and Yuma, Ariz., and Phoenix, Wedge said.

Only 400,000 customers were expected to pass through the airport in those days, Wedge said, adding that the John Wayne Airport is now a "medium-sized" airport in its own right.

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