A Record High For Northwest Florida Regional Airport

This year will go down in the record books as the biggest in the 54-year history of the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

A record 900,562 passengers flew into or out of Northwest Florida Regional Airport during Fiscal Year 2011, which went from Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011. That represented a 22.8 percent increase from last year and even beat the previous record of 816,875 passengers served in 2000.

“You always like to see a positive growth in your total passenger numbers, but 23 percent for the year is really unheard of for an existing airport,” said Mike Stenson, business development manager for the airport. “It is beyond what we had anticipated.

“It would be nice to see that kind of growth next year,” Stenson added.

Much of the growth can be attributed to Vision Airlines, which calls Northwest Florida its “hub.” Vision began here with service to Niagara Falls and Miami in December 2010 and expanded to almost two dozen cities, before scaling back to five destinations. They are expected to announce their expanded spring and summer schedule in December or January.

Other airlines contributed significant gains, too.

Delta, which typically services the most passengers of any of the airlines each month, was up 7 percent for the year. US Airways was up 8 percent, American Eagle increased its passenger count by 10 percent and Continental Airlines was up 12 percent.

Three times this year, the airport broke its record for the most passengers in a single month.

“It seemed like every month we were having a record-breaking month,” Stenson said. “A lot of it has to do with Vision, no doubt about it, but all of our airlines did exceptionally well.”

Northwest Florida Regional Airport has offered 32 daily departures to 24 nonstop cities through its five airlines during Fiscal Year 2011.

Members of airport staff are working on ways to increase that in the future.

Stenson said the airport is very active in speaking with existing airlines about their ongoing needs. Earlier this year, Delta upgraded two flights from the 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet to the 149-seat MD-88 aircraft.

The airport also goes out to other airlines that currently are not servicing Northwest Florida, he said.

This year’s Eastern Region – Small Airports Air Service Development Conference is scheduled for early November at Sandestin. Stenson said that will be a great opportunity for local airport staff to meet with airline representatives from around the country.

“They’re going to be seeing our area for the first time and no doubt they’re going to be blown away with what this area has to offer,” Stenson said.

“Having the numbers like we had this year, it’s an eye-opener to any airline to see what is possible from this airport when you bring new air service into a community,” he added. “It’s really incredible what we’ve experienced this year.”