Saturday, October 1, 2011

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport: Passengers strong through August

WEST BAY — Passenger count remained strong at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport through August, with the month being “one of our best months ever,” airport Executive Director John Wheat said last week.

The facility, which opened in May 2010, also continued to capture a large portion of the market share between the four major Panhandle airports, with 516,402 passengers for the January-July period and 78,235 for August, or a 21.3 percent share.

The airport’s January-July count represented a 66 percent rise in passengers compared to the same months in 2010, with August numbers showing a 7.8 boost over last year.

Wheat said his August passenger numbers were keeping pace with increases in business felt by hotels, restaurants and the Bay County Tourist Development County (TDC) compared to August 2010.

“We are pretty well following suit on that,” he told Airport Authority board members.

TDC Executive Director Dan Rowe said August bed tax revenue had not been finalized by last week but was projected to be about 30 percent more than August 2010, when collections totaled $807,936.59, 14.7 percent lower than 2009.

Of the other three Panhandle airports, only the Tallahassee Regional Airport experienced a loss in passengers over the January-July period this year, with 371,157 travelers, or a drop of 5.4 percent from 2010. Its 53,588 passengers for August represented a decline of 1.6 percent from 2010, according to figures released by Wheat.

Tallahassee airport director of aviation Sunil Harman said the opening of the new West Bay airport and the addition of low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines to the Panhandle had contributed somewhat to his passenger decline but was not the only factor. The airport’s market share stood at 15.3 percent.

Sunil still considered his main competitors to be Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, all of which also have low-cost carriers like Beaches International and are within a three- to four-hour drive from Florida’s capital.

“We have lost some passengers, but not equally to the Panama City airport,” said Harman, who is projecting a 6 percent decline in Tallahassee for 2012.

The Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County was reporting 602,369 passengers for the January-July period, up 38 percent over last year, and 86,679 passengers in August, an increase of 34 percent over 2010. Its market share was 24.9 percent.

In Pensacola, the Gulf Coast Regional Airport reported 929,570 for January-July, up 7.9 percent over 2010, for a 38.4 market share. August numbers for Pensacola were unavailable.

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