County airport sets passenger record – again

Terminal expansion in the works to accommodate rising demand

Another quarter, another record.

The Durango-La Plata County Airport saw new highs in passenger traffic for each month of the third quarter – July, August and September – this year. It was an 8 percent increase over the same period in 2011, according to a news release from Ron Dent, director of aviation.

Four commercial airlines currently serve the airport, with as many as 870 people departing daily. Nearly 138,000 travelers boarded planes between Jan. 1 and the end of September, an increase of 4.8 percent over last year.

But records are made to be broken, and this one probably will be, too.

“We expect this trend to continue,” Dent said.

US Airways and American Airlines will each expand Durango service during the holiday season by one additional flight per day.

Meanwhile, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines both phased in larger planes this summer, adding more seats to the market, Dent said.

The airport is also preparing for an expansion. Passenger traffic has more than doubled over the last quarter century, from 85,000 in 1986 to an expected 185,000 by year’s end.

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that the airport would receive $1.6 million in federal money to help finance improvements to the terminal, runway and parking lots.

The plan calls for constructing a north-south concourse with four or five gates, adding to the current three. The revamp is intended to limit passenger time spent queuing at security, and create a more spacious, pleasant environment for those waiting to board flights. The existing departure lounge seats only 200 people, in accordance with fire marshal rules.

Also on the to-do list is paving the airport’s overflow parking lot. It was scheduled to happen this fall, but the sheer quantity of parked vehicles forced management to postpone the project until next year.

Concerned about exceeding parking lot capacity, Dent recommended that passengers find alternative transportation to the airport, if possible, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when travel numbers spike.

“We are also suggesting that passengers arrive well before their scheduled departure to avoid long waiting lines at the security checkpoint,” he said.

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