Airport officials expected more but winter weather, pilot shortage took toll
The Tri-Cities Airport saw a modest growth of 723 additional passengers last year despite facing the challenges of a harsh winter and the loss of more than 35,000 available seats, the result of a reduction in available flights.
That’s fewer than anticipated for the year, but snowy winter weather led to a number of flight cancellations at the beginning of 2017.
And an industry-wide pilot shortage that started in the summer led to the cancellation of the airport’s Portland flight and the use of smaller planes for some flights to Seattle.
Despite United Airlines adding seats when it started flying larger planes to Denver, Colorado, in October, these factors combined to drive down the number of available seats for the year, according to airport officials.
The total number of available seats dropped from 477,623 seats in 2016, to 442,306 in 2017.
Though there weren’t as many seats available, more people flew out of Pasco last year than the previous year.
In 2017, the airport recorded 376,481 passenger boardings, a 0.2 percent increase over 2016’s 375,758 boardings.
The airport averages 2 percent to 3 percent growth each year.
“While we did not grow at the rate we hoped, I think we saw a lot of positives. (Last year) was still a record year and we had 8 percent fewer seats than we had in 2016. That is 8 percent fewer chances to increase our enplanements but we did it. Thanks to our travelers, we were able to keep our remaining planes full,” said Buck Taft, airport director, in a news release.
Enplanements are a measure of passengers boarding flights.
Taft said the Pasco-to-Portland flight will return March 13.
“I think we are still seeing a strong Tri-Cities economy. People still flew in record numbers, but sometimes we just did not have a seat for them,” said Jean Ryckman, board president of the Port of Pasco, which operates the airport. “The port works hard to increase available seats, whether that is recruiting a new route, adding new flights on existing routes or using larger planes for an existing flight. More seats means more options for our passengers and that is important to us.”
The airport recently completed a $43 million terminal expansion project doubled the size of the facility.