Norfolk International Airport traffic declines

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Fewer flyers are choosing Norfolk International Airport.

New numbers show more than a seven percent plunge in passenger traffic this August compared to 2013. And while airport officials say several things are to blame, all signs lead back to the lingering effects of sequestration.

If you’ve flown in and out of Norfolk International Airport over the last year, you’ve probably noticed several changes. There’s a new security screening checkpoint, new seating and screens, but the upgrades are being seen by fewer people, some of the lowest numbers in years.

“We’re basically making this facility ready for when our traffic does rebound,” said Robert Bowen with ORF. “We feel that the economy in this area has just not rebounded as quickly from the effects of sequestration, federal budget issues, and furloughs.”

Frequent fliers say there’s another noticeable difference at the airport that isn’t cosmetic.

“It doesn’t seem to be as many people or flights available,” Sharon Devlin said. “Pulled right in, checked in, no problems, no lines.”

It has its perks, but there are plenty of problems, due to fewer people flying the friendly skies.

“Less choices, usually more people on the flights, the seats are usually taken, and it’s usually a full flight now,” Devlin said. “It wasn’t always that way.”

Less people booking flights makes the airlines reconsider where they’re sending their aircraft. Bowen said the largest impact they’ve had is with Southwest Airlines, which has gone from a total of 14 daily flights to six daily flights in the past year. Delta Airlines has dropped five daily flights, and the impact felt just from those two airlines cutting back is significant, resulting in a loss of about 1,300 seats per day in this market.

Bowen said it’s the first time since 9/11 they’ve had this kind of reduction in flights. With airlines consolidating and changing their business plans, he said they’re looking to see what flights will make them the most money, and ORF has their work cut out for them to keep them from moving more aircraft away.

WAVY.com asked if they attribute any of the decrease at ORF to the start up of a new airline at Newport News Williamsburg International Airport. Bowen said they actually haven’t seen the numbers yet from Newport News to see if that’s true. Right now they’re just working airlines, suggesting things like new routes and better timing that might make them more profitable.

Overall, nearly 275,000 passengers flew through the airport. Since January, passenger traffic has declined more than three percent.

The airport said it also experienced a nearly five percent drop in cargo shipped in and out of the airport in August compared with the same month in 2013. Since January, cargo activity has decreased more than seven percent compared with the previous year.

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