Airport Officials Blame Sequestration For Steep Passenger Drop

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-It's already the most expensive airport in America. But new numbers now show a substantial dropoff in passenger traffic at Huntsville International Airport, with officials blaming sequestration for the decline.

Airport officials said nearly twenty percent fewer people flew out of the airport for the month of March when compared to the same timeframe one year earlier. The numbers from the airport authority show a 19.5% passenger dropoff, the latest decline in a string of months that show passener losses.

Airport spokeswoman Barbie Peek told WHNT News 19 that sequestration is the driving force behind the decline, with more than sixty percent of passengers falling into the non-leisure category. The vast majority of those passengers are linked to defense dollars and other forms of government spending, a segment that may already becoming less reliable due to cutbacks in government travel.

"It's never a good factor when you see your passenger traffic taking a dip," said Peek. "It's part of a storm we're having to weather right now...When a lot of government traffic is at a standstill, and we are a heavily business-traveled airport, it has an impact on your traffic...We just have to continue to work towards what we think we can do, and what we can control."

Peek said an overhaul in marketing strategy is not needed, citing the airport's belief that the sequestration effect is only a temporary setback.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average airfare at Huntsville International Airport currently stands at $522. That makes Huntsville the most expensive airport in America. The data for the DOT survey was gathered from the third quarter of 2012, which was the most recent reporting period for airports.