ERIC ALBRECHT | THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Columbus airport sees passenger increase as Dayton struggles

The John Glenn Columbus International Airport has seen gains in passenger traffic for the first few months of the year, as smaller hubs like the Dayton International Airport are seeing decreased amounts of passengers.

The Columbus airport saw an increase in passengers last year compared to 2015. More than 3.6 million passengers utilized the airport in 2016, 3.4 percent increase from the previous year. The airport is served by Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

In 2016, the airport recorded its second busiest year in airport history — serving more than 7.3 million passengers. And, international cargo traveling through Rickenbacker International Airport increased 16 percent compared to the year before.

“Thanks to the thriving Columbus region economy and numerous collaborative partners, including our dynamic air carriers, we’re connecting Ohio with the world in more ways than ever before,” said Elaine Roberts, president and CEO of the airport authority.

Annual passenger traffic was up 7.8 percent compared to 2015, and more than 150 daily nonstop flights were offered to 33 destinations. That increase has continued in 2017 for the Columbus airport.

The airport attributes some of that growth to customers satisfaction after completing an $80 million terminal modernization last year. It was then named the most improved airport in North America, and has several projects underway including a checkpoint expansion, the creation of nursing rooms, new concessions and updated customer service kiosks.

“Passengers appreciate the ease of traveling through John Glenn International and rave about the modernized, contemporary terminal that showcases natural lighting and meaningful amenities such as free high-speed wi-fi, more than 2,000 charging outlets,” Roberts said.

The Columbus airport had a year-to-date total of 1.07 million passengers in February. That’s compared to the 988,332 passengers who visited the airport in the same time period in 2016.

But not all regional airports have seen increased traffic.

In February, approximately 69,311 passengers flew out of the Dayton airport — a nearly six percent decrease compared to the same time in 2016, according to the latest data provided by the airport. The amount of travelers in February is a decrease of more than 35,000 travelers compared to February 2008 when more than 105,225 passengers utilized the Dayton airport.

The decrease in passengers comes months after Southwest Airlines announced it would cease all services in Dayton, and instead add them to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

“Unfortunately the trend has meant smaller to medium-size markets including Dayton have been losing routes,” said Terrence Slaybaugh, Dayton’s aviation director. “Although we hate to lose any airline service, especially one that the community has been very supportive of, we realize the volatility of the industry and the current trend of airlines to focus on hubs.”

Jay Ratliff, an aviation expert from the area, said he expects to see even more airliners pull out of smaller airports in favor of large markets in the coming years. When airlines start to retract services, they are increasingly looking at what markets can increase their revenue.

“It’s the smaller airports that suffer,” Ratliff told this newspaper.

Slaybaugh said the airport relies on grants and federal funding to help with their aging infrastructure projects. The Dayton facility will need nearly $150 million for infrastructure improvements.

According to a report released by the Airports Council International - North America, the need for improvements have increase by 32 percent at U.S. airports in the past two years, and the total need will cost nearly $100 billion in the next five years.

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