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Southwestern cuts four flights

February 09, 2008

AIRPORT DISTRICT — Proposed cutbacks for Southwest Airlines — Bob Hope Airport’s largest carrier — are due to take effect May 10, but the impact on the airport could be offset by its burgeoning revenue, airport officials said.

Southwest Airlines, which accounts for up to 65% of departing and arriving flights, will cut four flights a day from its Burbank schedule, citing the country’s economic woes, Southwest spokeswoman Ashley Rodgers said.

One daily round-trip flight from Phoenix, another from Sacramento and two from Oakland will be canceled, she said.

“We tweaked the schedule to reflect demand and revenue,” Rodgers said. “We’re trying to be strategic in our planning.”

Rodgers said the country’s economy, in which a crumbling housing market and rising oil prices have brought fears of a recession, was a main reason the airline cut the flights.

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“The high cost of fuel is the No. 1 challenge for us,” she said. “We’re trying to keep costs low and change with this environment.”

But airport spokesman Victor Gill speculated there might be more at play than rising fuel prices.

“They’re being squeezed by the cost of doing business, including the high price of fuel, labor and their ability to charge certain fares,” he said. “The trick is finding the balance between profitability and traffic.”

Though the airport will lose four flights a day, the result might not be a loss of passengers, Rodgers said.

“Our passenger numbers are up for this past year,” she said.

In January, Southwest converted all of its planes flying in and out of Burbank to Boeing 737-700 jets, increasing passenger capacity to 137. Previously, the Houston-based carrier used Boeing planes with a maximum capacity of up to 122 passengers, Rodgers said.

Southwest does not plan to cut Burbank flights in the near future, but its decision to do so is not unprecedented, Rodgers said.

In 1997, the carrier cut three daily round-trip flights, she said.

“It’s not common,” she said. “Southwest is committed to Burbank.”

The economic impact to the airport, which collects a $4.50 passenger facility charge for each departing passenger, is unclear, Gill said.

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