The number of passengers flying through Maine’s largest airports soared to the highest point on record in 2017 as Maine attracted a historic number of tourists and airlines expanded options for locals.

More than 1.8 million passengers came through Portland International Jetport last year, a 4 percent increase, or about 75,000 passengers more than 2016, the previous record. Bangor International Airport recorded 546,264 passengers in 2017, blowing past its annual goal.

A strong summer tourism season and expanded travel options for local passengers are credited for the record-breaking year, said the Portland airport’s assistant director, Zach Sundquist.

“I think for us, we had a phenomenal summer. The other thing we saw was the extension of the summer season well into the fall,” he said. “We are definitely seeing a shift to Mainers coming back and using the jetport instead of driving down to Boston and Manchester.”

Airlines such as American have added new nonstop locations and daily flights from Portland in recent years and other operators, such as Elite Airways, have introduced flights to Florida and other states.

Added capacity has helped during the busy summer tourism season, which now spills into September and October.

“There are a lot more options,” Sundquist said.

About 40 percent of the jetport’s annual passengers arrive in June, July and August, he said.

The type and size of airplanes serving Portland has changed as passenger counts have trended upward. About 20 years ago, the airport was mainly served by high-frequency small regional jets that could seat 50 passengers. Following a downturn brought on by the recession, those small planes have been replaced by 90- to 100-seat planes year-round and 170-seat planes during peak times in the summer, according to Sundquist.

Looking forward, airlines want to offer more flights, but also more amenities like first-class cabins, Sundquist added.

“They are seeing there is a premium passenger here and they are looking for a product for that passenger,” he said.

The jetport’s top three markets are New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

An expansion of the Portland jetport in 2010 left it with enough elbow room for continued growth, according to Sundquist.

“Really, we are just now getting back to what the baseline of the new building was,” he said. “Until we get to 2.5 million or 3 million (passengers) we don’t have a huge facility constraint.”

Capacity has also increased in Bangor, allowing it to surpass a goal of a half-million passengers, said marketing manager Risteen Bahr. The airport had eight record-breaking months in a row in 2017, she said.

“The one thing that happened for us that we got more seats, when we got more seats we filled them up,” she said. “It was a matter of getting more routes, getting larger aircraft and looking at expanded service in the summertime to meet demand.”

In the summer, about 65 percent of passengers are inbound, but in the winter, about 61 percent are outbound locals headed to Florida and other warm states, according to Bahr.

Bangor will have 33,000 more seats to fill this summer, which bodes well for another record-breaking year, she said.

“I am thinking that if load factors remain constant for what they have been for the last couple summer we will have increased passengers in 2018,” Bahr said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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