COLUMBIA, SC — Passenger traffic at Columbia Metropolitan Airport continued to rise in 2013, albeit less than a quarter of a percentage point. That’s a two-year trend that could lead to bigger planes and lower fares.
Cargo traffic, however, dipped by nearly 2 percent, surprising airport officials because of an expected increase in business from the Amazon.com distribution center in Lexington County.
Both the annual passenger counts and cargo numbers are signs that the economy in general and the airline industry in particular have stabilized after the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“It’s a national story,” said airport executive director Dan Mann. “The (airline) bankruptcies are gone. The consolidations are gone. The things that shook up the market (have run their course.) There are only four airlines now, and we have three of them.”
In 2012, passenger traffic jumped 11 percent, topping the 1 million mark. It had dipped below 1 million in 2011, following a high of 1.5 million in 2005, prior to the recession. Last year, passengers at the airport grew to 1,027,699 from 1,025,983 in 2012.
“All the trends are looking very good,” Mann said.
Holt Chetwood, president of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said that the second straight year increase is due to Delta switching from 60-seat aircraft to 70-seat aircraft flying out of the Columbia airport.
“It’s due to the bigger jets,” said Chetwood, Midlands president of Wells Fargo Bank. “That and the way Delta views this market. They see it as a direct route and not a commuter route.”
Mann noted that projections for this year show a 7 percent increase in aircraft capacity, another indication that the airlines expect more passengers.
“The seats will be sold and there will be lower fares because of that,” he said.
Cargo shipped out of the airport dropped 1.93 percent to 31,641 from 32,265 in 2012. It had jumped 11 percent from 2011 to 2012.
“That’s a little bit surprising,” Mann said. “But two percent doesn’t raise any red flags.”
Chetwood added: “You would like to see an increase in the year to year. But my understanding is FedEx and UPS are pleased with airport.”