Dry conditions aren’t just worrying the region’s fire agencies – they’re also cited as a big factor in explaining why passenger traffic at the Durango-La Plata County Airport dropped slightly in 2017 from 2016.
The number of passengers using the airport in December fell 5 percent. That monthly decline led to a 0.02 percent drop in passengers using the airport for all of 2017 compared with 2016, said Tony Vicari, the airport’s director of aviation. For 2017, 372,327 passengers used the airport.
“I don’t think you can attribute all of it to the lack of skiers, but it would be inaccurate to say it didn’t have an effect. We were up until December, then that month put us down,” Vicari said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
The prime driver of passenger numbers, he said, is the strength of the overall economy, and he said from 2008 to 2015, passengers using the airport increased 61 percent.
The economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 is responsible for much of the passenger growth through 2015, Vicari said. A plateauing of the numbers since then can be attributed to the bust in the natural gas industry in the Four Corners, he said.
For 2018, Vicari expects passenger numbers will increase by a couple of percentage points. He said a good tourism economy, a strong national economy fueling demand for travel, a slight recovery in the natural gas industry in the Four Corners and plenty of capacity of available flights to and from Durango should lead to a slight increase in passenger numbers.
Vicari noted another interesting development in 2017: For the first time in a number of years, United Airlines did not carry the most passengers in Durango. It was surpassed by flights from American Airlines.
This year, the airport plans to remodel the area behind the airline counter to improve baggage handling and other airline operations. The remodel will lead to new office space, a better break room and more equipment storage for the airlines, Vicari said. It will also provide space should another carrier decide to serve Durango.
Despite the remodel plans for the terminal, Vicari said the work will not solve the airport’s long-term space crunch.
He said the airport has been examining how to alleviate a space crunch since La Plata County voters in November 2016 soundly rejected a measure to increase property taxes over 20 years to pay for a $40 million terminal expansion.
In addition, the airport plans to add 50 paid parking spaces this year, he said.
Vicari said the airport is self-sustaining based on revenue generated from flights, passenger services and parking. He said a Colorado Department of Transportation study showed the airport contributed $280 million annually to the economy of the Four Corners.