GREEN – The number of people traveling on commercial airlines to the United States has increased over the past year, but remains below pre-pandemic levels, statistics collected by the Transportation Security Administration show.
In recent months, more than twice as many people have passed through TSA checkpoints in the country each day as during the 2020 pandemic. But this year’s numbers are still lower than the number of travelers reported in the country. 2019.
Akron-Canton airport officials expect it to be April or May before passenger numbers at the local airport recover from the blow taken due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the pandemic, 60% of travelers passing through Akron-Canton airport were on business trips, said Ren Camacho, chairman and chief executive officer. Today, business travelers represent less than 10% of passengers.
“We are trying to recoup business travel,” Camacho said.
Companies are not, however, ready to place employees in airplane seats, he added.
Marking 75 years
But there is hope as Akron-Canton prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary next week.
Breeze Airways launched service to Akron-Canton over the summer, while American and United plan to add flights in the coming months.
On Wednesday, travelers will be greeted by airport employees for a thank you event. Free refreshments, prizes and gifts will be offered.
Today marks 75 years since the federal government handed over Akron-Canton Airport to local authorities in Stark and Summit counties.
The Civil Aviation Authority has chosen farmland bordering the two counties as the location for a modern airport. The federal agency invested $ 2 million to purchase land and build three 5,600-foot runways, then turned the property over to the county commissioners of Stark and Summit.
“War rarely produces many benefits for the community, but an idea born during the last conflict has been ‘adopted’ by grateful citizens …” Ardent Cullison wrote in The Canton Repository the day after the consecration of the airport on October 13, 1946.
The new airport did not have a terminal. A permanent terminal was built in 1955 and expanded in 1962. The expanded terminal and tower built in the early 1960s have been renovated several times, but are still in use today.
Airlines moved to Akron-Canton in 1948. United and American were among the first, and both still serve the airport with daily flights. Spirit and the start-up Breeze Airways also offer flights.
Passenger service to Akron-Canton reached its peak in 2012 when more than 1.8 million people used the commercial service. But that was before the airlines started to merge, eventually dropping to just four major carriers.
The blow for Akron-Canton was Southwest Airline’s acquisition of AirTran, which was the primary carrier providing low cost service to Boston, Milwaukee and other cities visited for business travel.
Slow recovery from the pandemic
Passenger numbers were showing signs of a rebound in early 2020, before the pandemic.
Camacho said companies were reluctant to travel, in part because of travel restrictions between certain countries. Although Akron-Canton does not have international service, it is connected to major airports that do.
A regional air services task force that includes large companies and other organizations has been formed with the aim of determining when air travel could resume, Camacho said. In addition to discussing general travel plans, the task force monitors sporting events and concerts to see if people are ready to visit large, crowded sites.
Working with the task force has led to projections that business travel will accelerate next spring, Camacho said. Airlines are paying attention to the trend.
American Airlines will resume service to Philadelphia in November. United Airlines plans to resume service to Houston in April, with a $ 850,000 federal small-community air services development grant.
Still targeted by Akron-Canton, the resumption of service to Atlanta by Delta Airlines.
A commercial air service restoration program initiated by JobsOhio helped fund the resumption of service to Philadelphia and Houston. Camacho worked with local governments and private organizations to generate $ 250,000 as matching funds for the state program.
JobsOhio also played a role in bringing Breeze Airways to Akron-Canton and Columbus. Breeze currently serves three markets from Akron-Canton, but Camacho hopes the new airline will add more destinations as it grows.
“Slowly but surely we are getting the service back,” Camacho said.
Modernize for the future
Although passenger numbers have declined, the airport has worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to modernize its operations for the past 15 years.
A new chain of gates opened in 2006. In 2008, the airport embarked on a 10-year program that included the expansion of the TSA control area, additional parking and widened entry routes, as well as improvements in the ticket wing.
Behind the scenes, it extended the north-south runway, added US customs and border patrol facilities, and replaced aircraft rescue and firefighting facilities.
The final piece was the extension of doors built in 2006 and the demolition of doors dating from the 1960s. Work on the doors was completed during the pandemic.
Smaller projects have included the addition of electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot.
A charging station has also been installed for electric aircraft. Camacho said the airport was part of an electric aircraft test project. Meanwhile, airlines have invested in the development of electric aircraft, anticipating future use of the equipment.
Besides being a travel hub, Akron-Canton is home to industrial parks, a museum, dozens of businesses, and even a candy factory. The facility supports hundreds of jobs and has the potential to create more.
The airport is a huge asset to the region, said Ray Hexamer, president and CEO of the Stark Economic Development Board. Businesses considering relocating to the region always have questions about transportation, including air travel.
“Having those 10 minutes on the road is a plus when we’re working to bring a business to County Stark,” Hexamer said of the airport.
Existing businesses also benefit from the facility. Timken Co., FirstEnergy, JM Smucker Co. and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. have company planes and hangars at the airport, Camacho said.
There are also fixed base operators – Avflight and McKinley Air – at the airport that serve private planes. Castle Aviation provides freight and charter services from Akron-Canton facilities.
Industrial parks on the south and west sides of the airport are home to hundreds of jobs. Hexamer said having the property available provides an opportunity to attract more businesses and jobs to the area.
Camacho said the revenue generated from non-aviation operations such as industrial parks helps make the airport more affordable for commercial airlines.