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Manchester airport reverses 12 straight years of passenger declines

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 13. 2018 10:45AM
Ruth Murray of Lowell, Mass., picks up her luggage after flying into Manchester-Boston Regional Airport from Baltimore on Friday morning. Passenger numbers were up at the airport for the first four months of this year, but have since dipped. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — After 12 straight years of year-over-year passenger declines, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport gained altitude with its passenger numbers during the year’s first four months.

But the airport’s largest airline, Southwest, handled 15.6 percent fewer passengers this June than it did in June 2017, putting the airport on course toward another down year.

“Seems every year there’s less and less flights,” said Ruth Murray, who lives in Lowell, Mass.

“I used to fly out of Manchester a lot more,” Murray said Friday after flying from Baltimore to Manchester on Southwest.

Southwest said it flew 12 daily departures from Manchester during weekdays in June compared to 14 a year earlier.

“This is matching our service with the needs of local travelers,” Southwest spokesman David Landson said in an email.

Last year, the airport failed for the first time this century to handle at least 2 million fliers in a calendar year and was far from the 2005 record of 4.33 million.

Interim Airport Director Tom Malafronte called June’s weather unprecedented and said it “took a big toll on passenger activity.”

Seventy Manchester flights, a combination of arrivals and departures, were canceled that month, including 20 involving Southwest flights, due to weather and air-traffic delays across the system, Malafronte said.

“Despite our challenges and intense competition to the south, I remain optimistic about our future,” Malafronte said. “It’s not likely that we will make up for June’s cancellations in the remaining months of this year, but we are hopeful that the airlines will be able to operate their full schedules.”

Landson said the percentage of how full planes were when leaving Manchester remains “in line with our system average at 83 percent” for the year ending last March.

Larger Southwest planes also are planned.

“We’re also working in more of our largest aircraft, the 737-800 (175-seat capacity), into the fleet mix that visits Manchester throughout the remainder of the year,” he said. “We expect those flights to perform well.”

Those planes offer 32 more seats than the 737-700, according to the airport’s website.

The Southwest spokesman also mentioned a 64 percent increase in the amount of cargo it carried from Manchester in June 2018 vs. June 2017.

“We move a lot of seafood and some retail commodities from the Northeast and beyond through Manchester,” he said. “If you take both the passenger and cargo numbers, you’ll see our continued commitment to the Manchester region and we’re pleased with our performance.”

For the first half of 2018, Manchester’s airport handled 19,229 fewer passengers than the year before, representing a drop of 2.1 percent.

“In Manchester, we continue to see airlines adjusting frequency and fleet size to meet market demand and profitability goals,” Malafronte said.

Boston’s Logan Airport

Meanwhile, Boston’s Logan International Airport is heading in the opposite direction, seeing more flights and handling more passengers this year.

That airport reported 5.4 percent more passengers for the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2017, according to Massport, which operates the airport.

It also operated 5.2 percent more flights during that time.

The average domestic airfare at Logan Airport totaled $323.31 during the first quarter of 2018 vs. $370.02 for Manchester, according to federal figures.

Malafronte said Logan is growing because of “significant economic development which has taken place in the Greater Boston area and the fact that carriers like JetBlue, Delta and Spirit continue to expand their footprint in Boston.”

“The bottom line is we will always face challenges as a small hub airport competing with a large hub that lies in close proximity with easy access,” Malafronte said. “However, like battling a snowstorm, we persevere and will continue to do what is necessary to best serve our market and customers.”

Malafronte said the forecasted flight schedule for January through June showed Manchester departures were down 1.1 percent and seats up 0.3 percent compared to a year earlier.

That illustrates a recent industry trend of less frequency and larger airplanes taking place throughout the country, he said.

On Friday, Cheryl Feenstra of Laconia returned home flying on American Airlines from Greenville, S.C.

She likes to fly to an airport “closer to home.”

But, she said, “I’d do Logan if they had a direct flight.”

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