Tucson International Airport’s 2008 statistics set another record — nearly 4.4 million passengers, up 0.5 percent from 2007, which was also a record. Before you rub your eyes and double-check the date of this publication, you should know we’re talking about the Tucson Airport Authority’s fiscal year, which like the federal government’s is Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

While most airline news of late has been about cutbacks due to the economy, as the airport authority gets ready to close its fiscal year books, it provides a startling example of just how much things have changed in the airline industry over the last  12 months.

A year ago, commercial airline service at Tucson International was flying as high as it ever had: 13 airlines going to 29 destinations. As of next month, that will be down to nine airlines flying to 16 destinations.

The cutbacks hit hardest at Tucson International last month. According to the airport authority, there were an average 63 airline departures per day in September, down 21 percent from 80 depatures per day a year ago. The average number of seats going out each day was 6,546, down about 16 percent from 2007.

Paula Winn, director of information for the airport authority, notes the economy is forcing airlines to cut almost everywhere but it’s important for Tucsonans to use Tucson International as much as they can if there’s any hope of getting the airport back on its record-setting pace, which would benefit all travelers in the region.

Fewer fly out of Sky Harbor

In Phoenix, city-owned Sky Harbor International Airport is raising its landing fees by 18 percent to help make up $4 million the airport’s budget is short due to airline cutbacks this year.

The new landing fee is $1.47 per 1,000 pounds of landed weight, up from $1.24 per 1,000 pounds.

Sky Harbor has had 27.7 million passengers through the first eight months of this year, which is down just over 1 million, or 3.7 percent.

Tucson International Airport raised its landing fee about 9 percent with this fiscal year to $1.65 per 1,000 pounds, up from $1.51 per 1,000 pounds.

$472,000 to Hermosillo

Aeroméxico Connect’s decision to drop Tucson International’s only scheduled international flights earlier this month says more about the state of the airline industry in Mexico these days than anything about the airport.

In fact, local officials confide the idea of flights to Hermosillo, Sonora, mostly had to do with the airline’s desire to develop a northern Mexico mini-hub. That idea hasn’t worked out well as new private ownership of Aeroméxico struggles in the face of increased competition from 11 other Mexican airlines — six of them new discount carriers launched in the last 2½ years. 

As noted previously, Tucson officials are more interested in developing airline service to Guaymas and Guadalajara because of business ties between those cities and Tucson.

That’s not to say they didn’t ask what it would take to keep Aeroméxico Connect’s flights to Hermosillo. The answer was a subsidy of $472,000. That’s something privatized  airports in Mexico can do, but it’s a no-no in the United States.

Not so thirsty on US Airways

When US Airways officials talked of their quarterly report last week — a $689 million loss — they said the new policy of charging for soft drinks on flights not only is saving money but means flight attendants are making quicker runs with the drink carts because fewer passengers are buying. That keeps the aisles clear and there are shorter lines to use restrooms.

Contact David Hatfield at dhatfield@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4237. Inside Business Travel appears the fourth week of each month.