Arrivals and departures at the Durango-La Plata County Airport totaled 126,562 through the end of August – down 50.89% compared with the same period in 2019
The statistics reflect how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the airline industry, but Tony Vicari, aviation director of Durango’s airport, considers the numbers a bit of a victory.
He noted departures for the year are at 44% of the 2019 number through the end of August, but the national average for departures for the same period is only 28% of 2019.
“The numbers highlight the relative strength of our overall market and the resiliency we’ve seen so far and passenger uptick here at DRO. It’s consistent with what we’ve seen around the country, where the Mountain West has really been one of the leading regions in terms of a recovery in air service,” he said.
Stronger-than-average air travel numbers into the Rocky Mountain region comes with a rise in interest in vacation venues that offer outdoor recreational opportunities and wide-open spaces, Vicari said.
“What we’ve seen is that the No. 1 state in the country in terms of recovery as a percentage of air travel compared with 2019 is Montana,” Vicari said. “There’s a renewed interest in people visiting the outdoors, national parks, national forests – great wide-open spaces where people feel comfortable and confident in the current pandemic environment.”
People also altered planned leisure travel from urban areas to rural destinations, aiding the Mountain West, he said.
Large urban airport numbers are also more reliant on business travel and are hurt with that sector’s slow recovery as more businesses use online meetings and cut travel budgets to cope with lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For departures, DRO’s numbers showed steady improvement from April through August, although still well below 2019’s numbers.
In April, DRO had 98 departures compared to 313 in April 2019, a 68.69% decline. In May, the decline in departures from May 2019 was 64.79%. Declines for June were 71.81%, for July 62.75% and for August 53.9%, compared with those same months in 2019.
While the monthly trend is improving, Vicari is concerned momentum may reverse in fall and winter.
“I am cautious about what the fall and winter might bring,” he said. “There is a big question mark that exists about what post-summer travel might look like.”
Vicari suspects the summer numbers were boosted by a pent-up demand for leisure travel after months of quarantines. Also, leisure travel always drops off in fall and winter.
“If leisure travel does indeed drop off, we are left a little bit vulnerable, just because there’s not a significant demand for business travel to help backfill that,” he said.
Vicari also noted that American Airlines has been adding capacity at the airport, and in September the airline plans to be up to four flights a day to Dallas most weekdays. The airline recently added a second flight to Phoenix as well.
United Airlines, he said, is generally offering three flights most weekdays to Denver.