As year-end fast approaches, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport officials are reporting that the regionâ€™s newest airport has exceeded initial traffic expectations.
From its May 23 grand opening through November 30, Beaches International Airport handled 446,135 passengers, or nearly three times as many as the 160,000 passengers who passed through the old Panama City â€“ Bay County International Airport during the same time period last year.
â€œThe level of passenger traffic at the new airport has been impressive,â€ said Airport Executive Director Randy Curtis. â€œEach month, passenger traffic has been, on average, about 2.8 times greater than the same month in 2009.â€
In another indication of strong traffic at the new airport, demand for parking has far exceeded the short- and long-term parking lot capacity of 697 spaces. Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, for example, the airport parked a total of 1,547 cars in the two lots and in temporary overflow areas. By comparison, the old airport had capacity for just 330 cars.
As a result, the Airport Authority is constructing additional parking capacity at the new airport.
Clearly, a big factor in the growth in passenger traffic is the arrival of Southwest Airlines to the new airport and a first to the region.
Beaches International is now served by Southwest and Delta Air Lines. Passenger loads on Southwest planes have been averaging about 64%, while Delta has been averaging about 76%, said Curtis.
â€œWhile the winter months are traditionally a slower period, we are encouraged that the new airport is now serving more than twice as many passengers as the old airport did this time last year,â€ Curtis said. â€œWe anticipate a big jump in traffic numbers during the upcoming Christmas Holiday season and again in the spring.â€
Today, Beaches International offers â€œsingle planeâ€ service to Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Memphis, Nashville and Orlando, with the majority of the service on narrow body 737â€™s and MD88s.
Monthly passenger traffic at Beaches International now surpasses many of the commercial airports in Northwest Florida, including Tallahassee Regional Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Walton. In addition, Beaches International now has more available seats of departing flights than airports in Sarasota/Bradenton, Key West, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Gainesville and St. Petersburg.
The $318-million Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is the first commercial-service international airport built in the U.S. in the past 15 years. The new airport and its 10,000-foot runway are built on approximately 1,300 acres of a 4,000-acre site. Â The 125,000-square-foot passenger terminal features seven gates, two restaurants, two retail shops and five car rental ticketing counters.
For more information, visit www.iflybeaches.com.