Airport sees increase in passengers

ALBANY, Ga. -- Despite a crippling ice storm that shut down the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport for two days in January, airport officials say that passenger levels are continuing an upward trend that started in 2010.

Comparing the numbers, Airport Director Yvette Aehle says that 35,353 passengers boarded flights in Albany in 2010. That figure was up 8 percent over 2009's numbers, she said.

"We're starting to see a steady climb," Aehle said. "For us, the figures have come as a surprise given the recession and its effect on travel."

January's numbers were particularly surprising, Aehle said.

For the month, the airport's emplanements -- people who board flights -- were up over the same period in January 2010 by 9 percent.

The figure comes despite the fact that flights were canceled for two and half days because of frigid conditions and ice both in Albany and Atlanta.

"January, February and September are typically the worst months for airports and so it's surprising to see that our figures are up," Aehle said. "Hopefully it's a sign that businesses are starting to loosen up on their travel budgets during the bounce back from the recession."

Aehle said that Albany's largest travel block is from corporate travelers who come to the Good Life City on business trips.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, business trips have a significant impact on U.S. commerce and economic stability.

According to its website, business travel in the U.S. is responsible for $246 billion in spending and 2.3 million American jobs; $100 billion of this spending and 1 million American jobs are linked directly to meetings and events.

A 10 percent increase in business travel spending would increase multi-factor productivity, leading to a U.S. GDP increase between 1.5 percent and 2.8 percent, it says.

And, according to the association, business travel is expected to increase over the next six months, which is an encouraging sign to Aehle.

"Since these are our slowest months, hopefully that will translate into higher emplanements during our busier spring months as well," she said.

Aehle says that 2009 was the slowest year in terms of flights since the period in 2001 following the terrorist attacks.