Salt Lake International Airport was more crowded than ever in 1994, setting a passenger-traffic record as 17.6 million people passed through its turnstiles.

That was a 10 percent increase over 1993 and marked the fourth year in a row the airport has seen a double-digit surge in the number, which counts departures and arrivals.Operating revenue was also up, to $30.6 million, a $2.5 million increase over 1993.

Louis Miller, airport executive director since 1982, said the growth reflects a long-term trend that began over a decade ago, although the dramatic uptick recorded in the 1990s was not widely expected.

"No one guessed this kind of local growth," he told the Salt Lake City Airport Authority Board on Wednesday morning. "I remember 10 years ago people said, "Are you really going to make the 12 million mark this year?' "

Miller and others attribute the increase largely to air-fare wars waged between the airport's biggest carriers, Delta Air Lines and newcomer Southwest Airlines, which moved in last year to take over low-fare airline Morris Air's Salt Lake-based operations.

Delta controlled 56 percent of Salt Lake International's traffic in 1994, and Southwest/Morris had 32 percent of the market. United Airlines came in a distant third with a 4 percent market share, while American Airlines, America West, United Airlines, TWA and Northwest Airlines each accounted for less than 2 percent of local airport travel.

Miller, however, said air fares alone can't explain the surge.

"Utah's strong economy also deserves credit - I'm convinced of that."

Some authority members noted Wednesday that the growth - welcome as it may be - brings headaches.

"There are times when literally you can't find a seat (in passenger terminals)," said board member Elaine Weis.

Miller conceded the airport's services are seriously burdened.

"Our parking facilities, our car-rental facilities, our food-and-beverage facilities . . . just about everything that serves passengers is at maximum capacity."

But he said work in coming months will include expansion of parking and restaurant services and noted the recent opening of a new terminal to serve SkyWest, the St. George-based commuter airline.

A new international-arrival facility will also open this spring, and by the end of the year the airport's third major commercial runway - a $120 million, 12,000-foot project - will open.

Miller said airport administrators expect passenger-traffic growth to continue, though not at the rate established in 1994.

"I don't think fares are ever going back up," he said. "(Budget fares) are the wave of the future."