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Santa Barbara Airport Seeing Ridership Rebound After 27-Percent Decline Since 2000

New routes help boost activity at the airport and a recent report says the facility is a major economic engine for the region

After declining by 27 percent since 2000, ridership at the Santa Barbara Airport has begun to rebound in 2017. Click to view larger
After declining by 27 percent since 2000, ridership at the Santa Barbara Airport has begun to rebound in 2017. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

After years of declining ridership, the number of people passing through the Santa Barbara Airport is finally taking off again.

Passenger counts between April 2016 and last month jumped 13.7 percent, airport staff announced at Wednesday’s Airport Commission meeting.

In April, 56,446 people arrived and departed from the Goleta-area facility. American Airlines, which started flights between Santa Barbara and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport last year, saw the greatest jump at about 50 percent.

SkyWest Airlines, which operates under United, saw a 2-percent drop, while Alaska Airlines ridership increased 6.1 percent.

Officials had watched ridership drop 27 percent since 2000. Airport director Hazel Johns credited the turnaround to a business and marketing plan that included “a lot of effort on our part to talk with the airlines.”

The key achievement of those efforts was the addition last spring of daily flights to Texas’ third-largest city.

Airport business development manager Deanna Zachrisson said the demand has always been there, and that the Santa Barbara County South Coast’s only airport was finding new ways to fill seats that needed to be filled.

A recent economic-impact report on the airport found that it directly supports 1,440 jobs, and the facility, its tenants and its vendors generate $104 million of local spending.

“Santa Barbara Airport is certainly an economic engine here for us,” said UC Santa Barbara economics professor Peter Rupert, who heads the university’s Economic Forecast Project and conducted the analysis.

Johns said the report would be helpful in the airport’s meetings with airlines and efforts to build trip and passenger counts.

The report concluded that the Santa Barbara Airport is responsible for 2,190 local jobs and $205 million in spending in the region due to its employment, spending, contracting for services, and other operations that induce economic activity out in the greater community.

The airport also generates $31 million in tax revenue, and its operation is most beneficial to the hospitality industry.

Most travelers passing through the terminal usually stay four or more nights, are in their mid-40s to mid-60s, have higher incomes and tend to be better educated, according to the report.

Locals flying out tend to do so on business, while, predictably, out-of-towners arrive primarily for tourism.

Rupert said previous studies have shown that a major factor in the 27-percent ridership decline was the loss of routes.

Currently, SBA flies directly to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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