Friday, December 22, 2017

Passenger traffic soars at Daytona Beach International Airport (KDAB)

DAYTONA BEACH — As the local economy continues to sizzle, and tourists pour into the area in record numbers, Daytona Beach International Airport could be winging its way toward its strongest passenger traffic count since 1997.

The airport needs 43,192 passengers this month to top its total for last year: 707,657, which was a 19-year-high.

“I anticipate we will still exceed that (2016 total) number for the year,” said Jay Cassens, the airport’s director of business development.

For the year to date, the airport has now seen 664,466 airline travelers pass through its gates, up 3 percent from 651,308, the number through the first 11 months of 2016.

Surprisingly, with these increased passenger totals, the airport may have already set yet another milestone: the most flights canceled in a single year.

On Sunday and Monday, the Volusia County-run airport saw the cancellation of four flights by Delta Air Lines because of a power outage and fire at the airline’s hub airport in Atlanta. More than 1,400 flights were canceled nationwide.

Delta quickly restored its daily flight schedule to normal by Monday afternoon, but the latest batch of cancellations boosted the total number of flights scrapped by all carriers at Daytona Beach airport this year to 108, which could be an all-time record, Cassens said.

This year, the airport saw 37 flights canceled in February, March and April because of adverse weather in the Northeast and Georgia, as well as 67 in September because of Hurricane Irma. Those cancellations resulted in 16,200 lost seats, with many of those displaced travelers booking flights out of either the much larger Orlando or Jacksonville airports, Cassens said.

Airport Director Rick Karl said he was encouraged by the strong passenger numbers last month.

“November continued the positive trend for passenger traffic numbers in 2017,” he said in a news release. Passenger traffic last month was 56,512, an increase of 3.3 percent over the same month last year.

The rise in passenger traffic at the Daytona airport mirrors the increase in overall visitors that Volusia County has been seeing in recent years. Last year, the estimated number of visitors to the county rose to a record 9.8 million.

Most of the county’s visitors travel here via motor vehicle, but Lori Campbell Baker, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the increasing passenger traffic numbers at the airport are a good sign for the local tourism industry.

“The airport staff does a fantastic job with nurturing airline relationships and new flights for us all, and they work very well with CVB staff to drive demand for the destination,” Baker said. “We’re very excited about the increase.”

But while a 3 percent overall increase in passenger traffic for the airport is encouraging, Orlando International Airport has seen a 5.9 percent increase so far this year, while nearby Orlando Sanford International Airport in Seminole County is reporting a 7 percent increase year to date.

Comparing Daytona’s airport with the airports in Sanford and Orlando is like comparing apples to oranges, according to Cassens.

“Daytona and the Orlando area (which includes Sanford) are two different markets,” he said.

“Atlanta is a major hub for us and when we have all these issues in Atlanta like the fire and weather, it puts a huge strain on our operation,” Cassens said of Daytona airport, which is significantly smaller than the airports in Sanford, which reported 2.75 million passengers last year, and Orlando International Airport, which counted nearly 42 million passengers in 2016.

“Sixty-four percent of all of our passengers that utilize the airport (at Daytona) flow through Atlanta, so when we have these events, it impacts our numbers significantly,” Cassens said, referring to Delta, which offers the most daily flights here, followed by American and JetBlue.

At Daytona’s airport, Delta offers daily flights to and from Atlanta, while American offers daily flights to and from Charlotte, North Carolina. Passengers looking to travel to destinations beyond those cities can then transfer to a connecting flight at those hub airports.

JetBlue currently offers one incoming and one outgoing nonstop flight a day to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

“Just about every domestic airline serves Orlando with numerous no-stop destinations,” Cassens said. “If an airline decides to add a new city to Orlando or they add frequency between a city already served, this increases capacity. Or if they add a new international carrier, this also will increase capacity. Orlando is a large focus city of many low-cost carriers. There are just a lot more options and opportunities to increase capacity when there are so may airlines. Travel in general for Orlando has increased significantly with the added population, business and the growth in Disney and Universal attractions.”

The airport at Sanford “benefits from that growth as well, but more on the tourism side,” Cassens added. “Also, Sanford has primarily Allegiant service and that has grown quite a bit in the last few years and Sanford/Orlando is a huge focus city for them. If Allegiant adds a new city, it’s usually to Orlando/Sanford. Allegiant has been extremely aggressive in their growth over the last few years, probably more so than any other domestic airline.”

Cassens said he is hopeful that passenger traffic at Daytona Beach International Airport will continue to climb in 2018.

“We are getting an extra (incoming and outgoing daily) flight for Delta in March,” Cassens said.

Another factor that could boost more passenger traffic at the airport is the new developments in the Daytona Beach area, including the oceanfront Hard Rock Hotel set to open in February, the One Daytona retail/dining/entertainment complex and the Jimmy Buffett-themed Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older community.

“Those are all great for driving additional demand,” Cassens said. “We just need airlines to keep adding capacity as demand hopefully continues to increase.”

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