Dayton airport expects recovery in 2022, but COVID impact continues

Passenger traffic and airline seat capacity continue to rebound at the Dayton International Airport after nosediving in 2020 during one of the toughest years ever for air travel, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aviation officials predict that passenger traffic could increase by about 48% by the end of 2022 and they hope airlines will expand seat capacity by 20%, while the airport wants add air service to one new destination.

“The recovery is going well,” said Gil Turner, Dayton’s director of aviation.

But enplanements are still expected to remain below 2019 pre-COVID levels, and the virus and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant have the potential to put a crimp in people’s travel plans.

COVID clobbered the aviation industry as a whole last year, and Dayton International Airport experienced a 62% decline in passenger traffic and a 54% decrease in airline seat capacity.

The number of flights at the airport was basically cut in half between April 2019 and April 2020, decreasing from 1,395 to 727, Turner said.

But the airport started to see significant improvements in passenger traffic this past spring, as COVID-19 vaccines were more widely rolled out, safety measures were relaxed and many people felt more comfortable traveling.

About 489,675 passengers boarded planes at Dayton’s airport through the end of November, which was up 57% from the same period in 2020, according to airport data.

Airlines serving the facility increased seat capacity by about 63.5% through the third quarter of 2021, compared to last year.

Last month, more than twice as many people took a flight out of Dayton than did in November 2020.

The Dayton International Airport is a business concierge airport, and while corporate travel has not fully bounced back, it will eventually, said Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The business community is returning to corporate travel, but it’s a slower process,” Kershner said. “2022-2023 will realize continued corporate air travel growth.”

Time is money, and the Dayton airport is very convenient because travelers can park next to the entrance in a covered garage and work virtually in the business travelers lodge and still be at their gates in minutes, he said.

However, passenger traffic this year is still trending 60% below enplanements during the same period in 2019, pre-COVID.

The airport forecasts that enplanements will reach about 770,000 passengers by the end of next year, which would still be about 14% below 2019, according to a memo from Turner to Dayton’s city manager.

The airport is working with the airlines in the hopes they will increase their seating capacity either through increased frequency (more flights) or larger planes, which generally helps bring down ticket prices, Turner said.

Turner said the number of flights at the airport are expected to increase to about 1,320 by April 2022.

The airport also has set a goal of adding service to one new market in 2022.

The facility added service to two new markets in 2020 (Miami and Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida) and added nonstop service to Orlando in 2021, officials said.

The airport had 16 unique nonstop destinations in spring of 2019, but that fell to 11 this year. By April of next year, the facility expects to serve 14 destinations.

Turner said the airport has encouraged one of its airlines to consider adding service to Las Vegas or Phoenix.

Service to Denver and Minneapolis at the airport were suspended but are expected to return early next year.

By the numbers: Dayton International Airport COVID impact

Number of flights at the Dayton airport:

April 2019: 1,395

April 2020: 727

April 2021: 776

April 2022: 1,321 (projected)

Enplanements (passenger boardings)

2020 First Quarter (Q1): 156,357

2020 Q2: 30,648

2020 Q3: 70,817

2020 Q4: 78,402

2021 Q1: 80,153

2021 Q2: 142,293

2021 Q3: 161,010

Source: Dayton International Airport

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