Augusta Regional Airport recorded another year of passenger growth in 2012, hitting an all-time high with more than a half-million travelers departing and arriving.
The airport saw a nearly 2 percent increase, or an additional 10,000 passengers, to surpass the 541,843 totaled in 2011. The growth rate, however, was meager compared with double-digit increases in recent years, officials said.
After 15 years of falling passenger numbers, Augusta Regional has grown 102 percent since 2006.
In 2010, passenger numbers grew between 20 and 25 percent, but that fell to about 9 percent in 2011.
Growth is slowing because of a shortage of seats, said Diane Johnston, the airport’s marketing director. The airport lost a net 7,000 seats in 2012 after American Airlines stopped a direct flight to Dallas in January.
The addition of a US Airways flight to Washington, D.C., and some larger Delta Air Lines aircraft helped slightly, but aircraft are routinely filling to between 90 percent and 100 percent capacity.
“We don’t have enough seats in the market for us to continue to grow,” Johnston said.
Strong passenger numbers help the airport attract new or improved service, said Lauren Smith, the airport’s communications manager. A constant line of communication is maintained between Augusta Regional and major airlines.
“They always look at our numbers to see if we have the potential for added flights,” Smith said. “The more passengers we see, the more potential we have for adding flights or adding service.”
Fares for flights departing Augusta Regional are competitive with other markets, Smith said.
“Augusta wants to use their local airport,” she said. “They have noticed the low fares and that service is reliable.”
Another contributor to growth was service from Delta and its regional partner, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which operates most daily flights from Augusta for Delta.
The mainline Delta flight was added in May 2011 and operates a 125-seat jet with a first-class cabin once a day, Johnston said. Passenger numbers on that flight grew 10 percent to 15 percent each month in 2012.
Seventeen flights depart Augusta Regional daily and another 17 arrive, Smith said.