Problems stemming from Hurricane Katrina resulted in a 20 percent drop in air service at Louis Armstrong International Airport in 2005, according to statistics released by the airport.
About 7.8 million passengers passed through Armstrong's terminal in 2005, down from 9.8 million in 2004.
Passenger traffic in December dropped 54 percent compared to December 2004. The amount of cargo and freight shipped through Armstrong dropped 45 percent in December to 8.4 million pounds, down from 15.2 million pounds in December 2004.
However, Aviation Director Roy Williams said he's optimistic that the airport is on the road to recovery.
"When you consider that during most of the third quarter, we were shut down or slowly coming back to life, a 20 percent drop isn't terrible," Williams said. "I think we are making a strong recovery."
The number of flights has dropped from 166 the week before Katrina struck on Aug. 29 to 71 this week. However, the number is expected to rise to 91 flights as of April 3.
Despite the growth, the airport continues to hemorrhage money, and is seeking federal aid to make up for the estimated $40 million in losses that it expects to incur by the end of 2006.
"If we get back to 6.2 million passengers, clearly we can tighten our belts enough to get out of the red," Williams said. The 6.2 million mark represents about 63 percent of the airport's pre-Katrina traffic level.
The city laid off 99 civil service and temporary employees in October, and is looking for ways to help its small concessionaires stay in business through the turmoil following the storm.
The airport was closed for two weeks following Katrina, which damaged buildings throughout the 1,600-acre complex. Air service out of New Orleans has been growing slowly since it was reinstituted Sept. 14. Most of the travel activity has been done by residents traveling to see relatives in distant cities and relief workers shuttling in and out of the city.
The tourism industry, the major driver of air traffic growth during the last 15 years, is just getting back on its feet in the wake of the storm. The airport expects traffic to hit about 12,000 passengers a day during the height of Mardi Gras weekend. Before Katrina, the airport regularly served as many as 18,000 passengers a day during Mardi Gras weekends. This year's Mardi Gras passenger traffic, however, still may exceed expectations. Airport officials originally had been hoping to reach 10,000 passengers a day during the holiday weekend.
Most of the 12 domestic airlines that serve the airport are back, although not at their previous levels of service. International carriers TACA and Air Canada have yet to return.
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During February, the number of daily flights to and from the airport reached 110, up from 103 in January.
87 days after reopening to commercial airline service, New Orleans has brought back 60 of its previously scheduled 166 daily departures, or 36 percent of its load.
The flights that start today come as New Orleans is celebrating Mardi Gras and trying to get back its economic strength after parts of the city were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The airport has just received a $15.2 million federal grant that will likely be used to help repairs. There is still a hole in the roof over the airport's C concourse.