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Greenville News editorial

Date: July 07, 2011

Two full months of traffic statistics at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport validate what this community was told from the outset about its attempts to lure Southwest Airlines here. The promise was simple: Traffic will increase and fares will decrease for most carriers at GSP if the nation’s leading low-fare carrier comes to the Upstate.

It has, and in a big way.

The airport saw a 48.7 percent increase in traffic this May as compared to a year ago, according to a report in The Greenville News late last month. The increase in traffic made the month the second-best May in the airport’s history. All told, nearly 163,000 passengers passed through the airport in that month. And the increase continues a trend. In March 140,000 passengers went through the terminal and in April 155,000 passengers used the airport. Both of those figures also were year-over-year increases, according to the newspaper report.

The increases are due to “lower fares and other changes” airport spokeswoman Rosylin Weston told The Greenville News.

Those lower fares are owed to the so-called “Southwest Effect” that has been seen at many airports when Southwest Airlines begins service. Other airlines drop fares to compete with the low-fare carrier and all of the airlines see traffic increase. Obviously that happened here, too.

Southwest began its service in Greenville on March 14. The airline reported strong traffic from the outset and has said that it is pleased with the traffic it has generated in the Greenville-Spartanburg market. It also has been successful in Charleston, where it began service in March, as well.

The good news is that the traffic increases aren’t unilateral. According to an airport news release, “almost every airline operating out of GSP saw a significant increase in passenger enplanements.”

That’s exactly what was promised when the community was putting together an unprecedented coordinated effort to bring Southwest here. That effort included promises by major employers to use Southwest for their business travel and demonstrated that the community would support the airline if it came.

When the airline first began its service, airport executive director Dave Edwards told The News that Southwest would bring to GSP a “competitive fare structure.”

Prior to Southwest, GSP had among the highest fares in the nation. The airport was losing about two-thirds of potential travelers to airports — primarily those in Atlanta and Charlotte. With the competition brought by Southwest, fares are down and the passengers are coming back in droves.

The problems experienced by the airport had been having an impact on the region’s economy. After all, one of the things that employers seek when looking for a home is affordable and accessible travel. For corporate offices or headquarters, convenient air travel is essential. It stands to reason that an airport with high fares and few options can stifle economic growth.

In short, affordable air travel is vital to economic development. It’s also important to the quality of life for a region’s residents. Employees who are relocating to an area — or even those who’ve lived here all their lives — want air travel to be easy and economical. .

It will take time to determine how much of an impact Southwest and the lower fares and expanded options that it has brought will have on the Upstate economy. But the early returns are very, very encouraging.

This newspaper said in a 2009 editorial that bringing a low-fare carrier like Southwest to GSP would be a big win for the Upstate. It has been. If the trends continue — and there’s every reason to expect they will — the wins could continue to build.