MANCHESTER — Manchester-Boston Regional Airport handled more than 120,000 fewer passengers last year compared to 2017 — marking the 13th straight year of declines.
The state’s largest airport saw a 6.2 percent dip in fliers and is down 57 percent from its 2005 peak of 4.3 million, according to figures requested by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Monday.
Airport officials said 2019 was setting up to be a good year for the airport, which is working to reduce the costs it charges airlines.
“We continue to have positive conversations with all our partner carriers about how the market is performing,” officials said in a statement.
United and American will bring an additional 80,000 combined seats to Manchester a year with planes that will include economy and premium seating to capture more highly profitable passengers, according to officials.
Accounting for much of 2018’s drop was the airport’s largest carrier, Southwest Airlines, which handled 109,480 fewer passengers in 2018.
“We’re focused on providing the right mix of seats, destinations and schedules that match (the) needs of our customers,” said Southwest spokesman Dan Landson. “We are always evaluating our performance and ensuring that we’re offering the service that our customers are looking for while also making adjustments when travel patterns change.”
Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, called the airport a “critical economic driver for New Hampshire that connects our region, business community, and residents to other economic hubs across the country.”
The airport handled 1,847,908 passengers in 2018, or 122,780 fewer than the previous year.
Airlines in Manchester carried 8.7 percent more cargo in 2018.
Airport Director Ted Kitchens said “we feel strongly that if carriers want to grow in New England, then Manchester is the best place for that growth.”
Other New England airports have seen passenger gains.
Logan International Airport in Boston handled 6.7 percent more passengers January through October 2018 compared to the same time in 2017. T.F. Green Airport near Providence, R.I., saw an 11 percent increase in passengers for the first 11 months of 2018 compared to the same time frame in 2017.
Manchester had the highest average fare among the three, according to the latest government figures.
The average airfare during April-June 2018 gave Providence the edge at $325.71 versus $326.81 for Logan and $381.38 for Manchester, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Discount carrier Frontier Airlines started flying out of T.F. Green in August 2017, providing a big boost for that airport’s 2018 numbers, according to the airport’s website. T.F. Green officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
Kitchens, who was general manager of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, the nation’s 13th-largest airport, started in Manchester last October.
Part of turning around Manchester’s numbers, he has said, is getting the business community more involved and lowering the costs for airlines to operate here.
“A multi-pronged approach will be needed to boost airport numbers and I’m excited by the efforts the new airport leadership team is in the process of developing and rolling out,” Skelton said in an email.
“More marketing to NH residents on the convenience and quality of service of the airport, more aggressively showcasing to carriers the positive economic growth in NH, and enhancing transportation options are all part of a mix of strategies that can help strengthen the airport.”