Feb. 9--A record 8.5 million passengers passed through the gates of Indianapolis International Airport in 2005, officials said Wednesday.
Increasing competition and record low fares helped drive the numbers, including 824,000 "spring breakers" in March 2005 -- the single busiest month ever.
"I am not at all surprised," said AAA Travel Vice President Suzanne DeCellis, whose office serves a 52-county area in Indiana. "The largest growing segment of travel is the leisure and vacation traveler."
The record growth -- to 8,524,442 passengers, up from 8,025,051 in 2004 -- comes despite the pullout of ATA and Independence Air, as well as cuts in the flight schedule of Northwest Airlines, the airport's busiest carrier.
"We all hated to lose ATA. It ripped out our hearts," said DeCellis. "But to have all the other carriers come in, it's exciting. It's good for Indianapolis. As long as these planes are filled, we will continue to have good service."
Northwest Airlines, which had a summer peak of 52 daily flights to 21 cities, became the largest carrier out of Indianapolis in 2005. But the airline has since pared down to 42 daily nonstop flights to 16 cities.
Airport Director Patrick Dooley credited the growth in passengers to increasing competition among airlines, leading to record low fares for both leisure and business travelers.
Maintaining the trend in 2006, however, might be hard.
"This year likely will be more challenging for both the airport and for consumers as the airline industry continues to reduce jet fleets and makes other adjustments in response to economic changes," Dooley said in a prepared statement.
The growth comes as the airport continues work on a $1.07 billion expansion, the centerpiece of which is a 40-gate midfield passenger terminal scheduled to open in late 2008.
Cargo numbers were also up in 2005, the airport said. More than 1.1 million tons of cargo moved -- a 7 percent increase from 2004 -- led by FedEx, which maintains a large Indianapolis hub.
Indianapolis International Airport ranks as the ninth-largest air cargo airport in the country and 20th in the world.
Preliminary statistics from last year show many other airports handled more passengers and flights than in 2004. The Chicago Tribune reported last month that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport bumped Chicago's O'Hare International from the top spot in numbers of flights and passengers.
Star reporter Ted Kim contributed to this story.
BY THE NUMBERS:
--The airport served 8,524,442 passengers -- a 6.2 percent increase over 2004 and the second consecutive year the airport has surpassed the 8 million-passenger mark.
--Summer vacation travel drew more than 2.3 million passengers in June, July and August.
--In November, more than 667,000 passengers went through the airport.
If its stable financial condition improves, the Indianapolis-based company might sell stock to the public within two years.
The Indianapolis-based carrier is expected on Tuesday to formally announce the date it will emerge after final paperwork is filed.