Airline mergers, a deep recession and surging fuel prices have led to sharp cuts in airline service around the country. Hardest hit: medium-size airports.

In California, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, LA/Ontario International Airport and other mid-size airports lost an average of 26.2 percent of their flights from 2007 to 2012, according to a new study by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation [embedded below].

The cuts are a result of airlines eliminating less-profitable routes and focusing on more popular, high-profit routes, the report said.

Many airlines have also replaced multiple flights of small, 50-seat planes with one or two flights using larger, 76-seat planes, the report noted.

“The past six years have been challenging ones for domestic air service in the United States,” according to the report by researchers Michael D. Wittman and William S. Swelbar. “Most airports have seen a reduction in scheduled domestic flights.”

Large airports such as Los Angeles International Airport have lost 8.8 percent of their flights, while small airports such as Long Beach and Santa Barbara municipal airports lost 18.2 percent in the six-year period, the study found.

The biggest drop has been at mid-size airports such as Bob Hope Airport, where airline departures dropped 24.8 percent in the six-year period.

Bob Hope officials say they are trying to reverse the trend by holding down the cost for airlines to fly out of the airport.

Those costs include landing fees and rental and leasing rates for airport facilities, airport spokesman Victor Gill said.

The airport also launched an incentive program in November to waive landing fees for all new flights to cities previously not served by the airport.

To draw more passengers, the airport is increasing its marketing efforts. For example, Gill said the airport recently signed a deal to make Bob Hope the official airport of the Rose Bowl for the next three years.

The MIT study on small community air service:

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(c)2013 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Tags: regional
Photo Credit: It's no laughing matter, but Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, took the brunt of cuts when airlines decided to transition away from smaller airports. Steve Wilson / flickr.com