Could this be a record-breaking year for travel at Huntsville International Airport?
Earlier this year, Airport CEO Butch Roberts told the Lede travel this year could approach the record of almost 1.5 million passengers set in 2019 just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
He expressed that belief after the airport recorded a 35% jump in passengers in January over the previous year, a year in which 1.2 million passengers passed through Huntsville, the second highest number since 2011.
So far, the airport is on pace to surpass that number. Through April, the latest statistics available, air travel is up 22% over the year before. Every month so far has surpassed the previous year’s numbers.
“We’re seeing double-digit increases in our capacity,” public relations manager Mary Swanstrom said. “We’re seeing about close to 200 flights weekly. We’re seeing larger equipment servicing our routes. We’re seeing the addition of routes. We recently added Orlando non-stop. We have added Las Vegas non-stop. We’ve increased our non-stop destinations to 14 at HSV.”
More than 430,000 passengers traveled through Huntsville during the first four months of the year, an almost even split of passengers enplaning and deplaning at the airport.
March was the busiest month for travel in that time with more than 120,000 passengers, an increase of 26% over 2022. There wasn’t much of a drop off in April, when more than 119,000 passengers passed through the airport, a 15.4% increase over April of last year.
Higher numbers could follow if last year is an indication. May was the busiest month for travel at the airport last year. Last month’s statistics are unavailable. June and October were also among the busiest months last year.
In an interview earlier this year, Roberts felt the relaxation of Covid restrictions was the number one reason for the rebound from the pandemic. Roberts also believed the area’s population growth has also been a factor. The latest census numbers have Huntsville growing more than 3,000 residents a year.
Roberts said the increase in the FBI workforce at Redstone Arsenal could also be a driving force behind the increase in travel number.
Leisure travel has also been a factor in the rebound from the pandemic. Before the pandemic hit, business travel made up 70% of the traffic through the airport. During the early months of the rebound, the numbers were flipped because of the number of government positions working remotely.
Recent passenger surveys have the number at about an even split.
It has also helped that the airlines have increased the number of available seats. American Airlines – the airport’s largest carrier – has also upgraded its equipment.
And the presence of low-cost carrier – Breeze Airways – has also helped, officials said. It was offering fares as low as $99 to Las Vegas, $49 to Orlando and $84 to Tampa on select days on its website of Friday.
“So far in 2023, our passenger traffic is 22% greater than 2022, and that is something to celebrate as we see air travel normalizing post-pandemic, Roberts said last week. “In our first four months of 2023, we are at 98% of the passengers we saw in 2019, and that was our highest year on record. We anticipate that by the end of the summer, we will exceed our 2019 passenger traffic.”
He said the airlines still have capacity challenges with regards to seats and staffing and continue to massage schedules throughout their systems industry-wide.
“We have capacity that has been added to our market, and as our community demand continues to grow, the airlines will add more seats, frequencies, and destinations,” Roberts said.
Huntsville’s travel numbers can be found here:
Scott Turner reports from Huntsville for the Lede.