January can be a cruel month … but not this time.
Our airport’s total passenger numbers for January were up 9.2 percent when compared to the same month last year. That’s the biggest January increase since 2006.
It’s not just January that’s often cruel. You can add February and March to the list — it’s the first quarter blues — that time of the year when general economic activity slows WAY down. In the airline industry it’s the time when passenger numbers plunge and airlines have big fare sales to stimulate demand. That’s why a January increase of nine percent gets our attention …
So what gives … why such a big increase?
The short answer is we don’t exactly know. The long answer is more complicated …
Take a look at the graph. What you see are total passengers numbers, at our airport, for every year this century. It’s pretty easy to read …
The plunge in 2001 was due to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The numbers go up as the industry recovers.
2005 was our peak — it’s the year Allegiant started service here and Delta added service to three destinations. The Mid Two Thousands were go-go days for the airlines.
As you follow the graph you’ll see the recession kick in; numbers swing wildly and then plunge in 2011. That’s when airlines cut capacity (number of available airplane seats) at airports nationwide. They did so in response to the recession and high fuel prices. But then things start to settle down … the cuts in service for Springfield were essentially over with by the end of 2011.
In 2012 and 2013 our total passenger numbers were up slightly: 2.8% in 2012, and up .05% in 2013.
The takeaway from the graph is that the industry has stabilized and is slowly improving.
So here we are in 2014 with the best January since 2006. Are we about to have another boom year? Probably not — at least not on the scale of 2005 - 2007. Given the nature of the airline business February could end up with flat or negative passenger numbers. That being said, I think there are several reasons for optimism:
Airport passengers are often a leading economic indicator for the general state of the economy. As the economy improves more people fly. Unemployment and job growth numbers from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce show a much improving local economy: in December the Springfield metro area reported an unemployment rate of 4.6%. A year ago it was 5.4%. Bottom line: as the local economy grows airport passenger numbers grow.
The airline turmoil of the past few years is over; airlines are now making a profit. Fuel prices have been stable for three years. With costs under control airlines seem a bit more willing to add capacity is some markets — but only those markets where they think they’ll make money.
- Our airport saw a 3.7% increase in capacity in January. That’s the first increase since July of last year and the second biggest increase since February 2012. Bottom line: since the airlines are adding capacity here they must have some degree of confidence that our air market is strong.
So yes, things are looking up. Here’s hoping that that the rest of the year is as good as January!