Source: Portland Jetport
Interactive: Christian MilNeil

More than 1.78 million passengers traveled through the Portland International Jetport in 2016, setting a record as other regional airports in New England saw their passenger numbers decline.

The record year helped Portland hold on to more of its share of the New England air travel market, even as Logan International Airport in Boston is attracting more travelers at the expense of other New England airports.

“We are holding our own with Boston,” said Assistant Airport Director Zach Sundquist. Larger regional airports in New England still have more total traffic than the jetport, but they are far below their record number of passengers, he added.

“In the summer and fall, we are a destination and a place people are willing to fly to visit. It is also the strength of our local businesses and their commitment to use the jetport,” Sundquist said.

The number of passengers that came through the jetport last year – 1,785,649 – was 3.2 percent more than in 2015, according to jetport data. The number of passengers last year surpassed the previous record of 1.76 million passengers set in 2008.

Jetport officials credit additional routes, more trips and bigger planes for the increase.

Portland-based Elite Airways expanded direct-flights to Florida last year, adding trips to Naples and Sarasota and doubling its service to Orlando-Melbourne. In 2015, American Airlines added a second seasonal daily flight from Charlotte, North Carolina. United Airlines began using larger airliners – 100-150 seat planes instead of 50-75 passenger aircraft – on flights to Newark in New Jersey, Chicago and Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., Sundquist said.

Southwest Airlines, which started flying to Portland in 2013, extended its summer schedule into November last year, Sundquist said.

“In general terms, we really saw a lot of additional passengers during the fall,” he said.

Southwest is the largest single carrier into Portland carrying 15.6 percent of the jetport’s passengers from November 2015 to October 2016, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Baltimore, a hub for some of Southwest’s domestic and international flights, was the top destination from Portland in the same time period. Atlanta, Philadelphia, Newark and New York City were also popular destinations.

Southwest passenger traffic through Portland increased 7 percent in 2016, according to spokeswoman Thais Hanson.

“We’ve been pleased with the response we’ve seen from both local residents and visitors to (Portland), particularly during the summer season,” she said.

But even as passenger numbers have increased, Portland’s share of regional air traffic has slipped in the past several years.

Last year, the jetport captured about 3.5 percent of the market share among the seven largest New England airports – in 2009, the jetport’s share was 4.2 percent, according to Federal Aviation Administration enplanement data provided by the jetport. Enplanement refers to the number of passengers who board a plane, and it is the number used by the FAA to measure airport traffic. Although Portland’s share has declined in the last six years, it has not fallen as fast as other New England airports.

 
Source: Portland Jetport
Interactive: Christian MilNeil

In 2016, there were approximately 25.7 million boardings in New England. Seventy percent of them were at Boston-Logan, up from 60 percent in 2009.

T.F. Green Airport, in Warwick, Rhode Island, had 1.8 million enplanements last year, down from 2.1 million in 2009, and its market share dropped from about 10 percent to 7 percent in that period. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport boardings dropped to 1 million last year, down from 1.5 million in 2009, and its market share dropped from 7.6 percent to 3.9 percent in the same period.

Massport, the agency that operates Logan, did not respond to a request for comment.

Geography may partially explain how Portland has held onto its market share, Sundquist said. Manchester and Warwick are both closer and better-connected to Boston, making it easier for travelers in those states to use the larger airport.

Maine business travelers also prefer to fly out of Portland because it saves travel time even though tickets might be more expensive, he added.

“I think when we have talked to business leaders here in town, there is a strong understanding that four or five hours round trip in a car is time and time is money,” he said.

The jetport is positioning itself to continue growing, Sundquist said. It has proposed a 20-year master plan to accommodate 40 percent more travelers and wants to expand travel options to the West Coast, he said. It is also soliciting ideas and feedback from businesses to sharpen its air service development that includes adding more direct flights.

Depending on market conditions, 2017 could be a stronger year than 2016, Sundquist said.

“You never know what the future has in store for us, but for the first six months in 2017 we have 5.5 percent more seats,” Sundquist said. “As long as our market is able to fill that additional capacity, we should be in a good place for future records moving forward.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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