The Durango-La Plata County Airport is reporting a 16% increase in passenger traffic between June and August compared to the same months in 2022.
Tony Vicari, aviation director for the airport, said the numbers are up in part because fewer flights and smaller planes were servicing the airport at this time last year. That was a trend at regional airports nationwide, he said, because of a pilot shortage post-pandemic.
Those constraints are starting to ease, he said. Seat capacity – or the total number of seats available – are up 17% this year at DRO, he said.
“One of the biggest things that's driven the increase from ’22 to ’23 in the summer, and really all year, has been that we're just seeing more seats put back into the market,” he said.
Airlines have also been using larger aircraft like the 126-seat Airbus to service the airport, he said.
The increase in passenger numbers is occurring relatively evenly across the different types of travel, including local leisure use, visitor traffic and business travel, Vicari said. If there is any fluctuation, it is a slight downtick in leisure travel and a slight uptick in business travel, he said.
“We're seeing strength, kind of across the board,” Vicari said. “It's not like we're seeing a huge surge in tourism or a huge surge in local traffic. It's just strong, steady demand from both areas.”
Business travel decreased significantly nationwide during COVID-19 as companies sought to cut costs, reduce exposure and rely more on virtual meetings.
“Our business travel is still not anywhere close to recovering to levels that we were seeing pre-pandemic, but we're seeing a steadier jump this year,” Vicari said.
Here is a breakdown on total numbers:
- In June, enplaned passenger traffic totaled 18,787, a 5% increase from June 2022.
- In July, enplaned passenger traffic totaled 20,629, a 17% increase from July 2022.
- In August, enplaned passenger traffic totaled 21,022, a 26% increase from August 2022.
The airport has been reporting steady growth since the early 2000s, when it served about 200,000 total passengers a year. By comparison, the airport expects to serve 400,000 passengers this year.
To keep pace with the increased traffic, the airport in April began work on a $36 million terminal expansion that will be done in two phases and is expected to be fully completed by Summer 2025.
“As a gateway and first impression to Durango, Southwest Colorado and the entire Four Corners region, the airport must provide appropriately sized and modern infrastructure to support the growing demand for air service in our community,” Vicari said in a news release. “Passenger traffic at DRO has more than doubled over the past 20 years, and the terminal facilities are feeling the pressure of this growth.”
The expansion is being paid for by federal grants and revenue generated from airport tenants and users in the form of airline rent and landing fees, terminal concessions, ground leases and parking fees. It does not receive any local tax funding.