Southwest Airlines pulling up stakes from Key West

Monroe County's airports director is stumped as to why Dallas-based Southwest Airlines will stop daily service to Key West from Tampa, Orlando and New Orleans effective next June.

"The numbers have been very good here," Peter Horton said.

Southwest started serving Key West International Airport in December following its takeover of carrier AirTran.

Southwest Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Bob Jordan said in a prepared statement that "unfortunately, the level of local demand no longer allows Southwest to profitably serve these markets."

Digging into the numbers, Horton said that's not the case.

From January through October, 86,587 passengers left Key West on Southwest, Horton says, and another 83,169 arrived. That totals 169,756 Southwest customers for the first 10 months of the year.

Southwest had 137,654 passengers come through Key West in 2012.

For comparison, in 2012, Delta carried 230,069 passengers in and out of Key West and American another 192,408 passengers.

In 2012 on all carriers, 741,799 passengers came through Key West International, up from 677,581 in 2011.

Horton says the airport is on track to top the 2012 passenger count by the end of the year.

Silver Airways, a corporate partner with JetBlue, offers daily round trips from Key West to Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Along with its Key West service, Southwest will end operations at Jackson [Miss.] Evers International Airport and Branson [Mo.] Airport.

Monday, Southwest cancelled three flights into and out of Key West based on a local equipment failure; two of three routes were eventually reinstated.

In that case, the airport's primary vertical slope indicator system -- pilots view the lights to determine the appropriate angle for landing -- went offline for about an hour and a half before it was fixed.

The problem was a burned-out light socket.

Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said company policy requires both a primary and secondary VASI be online for a landing.

"I don't know that the two are connected," Horton says of the equipment failure and Southwest's decision.

"They have had issues with their protocols landing on a short runway so they've cancelled the most flights," of operators flying into Key West.

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