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Record Numbers for Pensacola Air Travel

Pensacola International Airport

Pensacola International Airport has reached the 2 million passenger mark this fiscal year, a record for the number of visitors moving through the facility.

At the weekly news conference at Pensacola City Hall, Airport Director Dan Flynn said an airport is actually a barometer of the regional economy.

“Whether it’s the business sector of the regional economy; the leisure/tourism sector of the regional economy, the military sector of the regional economy,” said Flynn. “We work with all those leaders to meet the demands that they have to support the area.”

Over the past 23 months, says Flynn, those leaders have been doing “an amazing job.”

“Since October of 2017, every month at the Pensacola International Airport has been a record in one form or another,” Flynn said. “It’s either been a record for that month, or it’s just been flat-out an all-time record for passenger traffic.”

When the recession hit at the end of 2007, the airport’s peak was 1.6 million passengers. Flynn says it was a thrill when that number was finally eclipsed two years ago, at 1.67 million. As of August of the current fiscal year — which ends Sept. 30 — that number is 2,018,000.

“The leaders in the local economy – the mayor, city council, county commission, Visit Pensacola, the chambers, the different business interests – they’re really knocking it out of the park with respect to driving the regional economy,” said Flynn. “Because we’re seeing it at the airport.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Dan Flynn is Director of Pensacola International Airport.

Pensacola International also broke the 200,000 passenger mark for four consecutive months earlier this year. 

“Last year was the first time – last July [2018] was the first month that we ever went over 200,000 passengers in any given month,” said Flynn. “This year, we’ve gone over it [in] May, June, July and August. Hats off to those individuals who are driving the regional economy, because they’re just doing a phenomenal job.”

Those numbers represent a 31% jump over the past two years. Flynn adds that’s across the board in all sectors and demographics of the economy.

“We know that roughly 47 percent of the traffic at the Pensacola airport is driven through the business sector; 46 percent is the leisure/tourism sector, and the remainder is the military sector,” Flynn said. “We like to find out the demographics of our passengers, so we can figure out ways to satisfy demand.”

Judging by the increase in passenger visits to the airport, Flynn says it would appear that more people have discovered Northwest Florida – Pensacola, Okaloosa County and Panama City, he says, are doing phenomenal right now. And that begs the question: can the airport bring in additional airlines based on that strength? Flynn says for now, the pickings are a bit slim.

“When you go back to roughly 2000, you had about 10 airlines that controlled about 90 percent of the U.S. market,” said Flynn. “Fast-forward to 2014; because of mergers and acquisitions, there’s [sic] really four airlines right now that control roughly about 85-90 percent.”

Those four are American, Delta, Southwest and United – all of which serve Pensacola. Other than those, the so-called “traditional” airlines remaining include Alaska, Jet Blue, Frontier, and Spirit.

“My air service goals – first and foremost – is retain the levels of service that we currently have,” said Flynn. “Second, is to grow the service with the current carriers. And then third, is to try to attract additional carriers to the market. But again, there’s not a whole lot of additional carriers.”

Another part of that strategy, says Airport Director Dan Flynn, is trying to leverage everything out there. He adds it’s a team effort; among the groups represented is Visit Pensacola, whose director is Steve Hayes.

“We go to meet with the airlines, we take individuals from the community with us; Steve Hayes can outline what’s going on with the leisure and tourism sector,” Flynn said. “We will take representatives from the business sector, so the airlines can hear it first-hand.”

But success begets more challenges. Pensacola International has to deal with congestion most mornings, with up to 14 aircraft trying to share the facility’s 10 gates. One possible solution is expanding ramps near the terminal, which could help with better determining which planes go where.