The Durango-La Plata County Airport set a record in June, serving 41,847 passengers, up 4% from the previous record of 40,164 in June 2019.
Tony Vicari, the airport’s director of aviation, said the primary factor behind the record-setting month was pent up demand for travel after easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Durango happens to be in the sweet spot of travelers’ post-COVID-19 destination preference, a rural locale that abounds in a wealth of outdoor recreation possibilities.
“Durango has tracked 30-plus percentage points ahead of the overall U.S. recovery,” Vicari said. “The U.S. as a whole is still sitting at about 75 to 80% of pre-pandemic numbers. Whereas, in June, we were at over 110% of pre-pandemic numbers. That really speaks to the strength of our market in particular. It’s several factors, but primarily it’s the popularity of outdoor, domestic, leisure-oriented destinations right now.”
Vicari said strong passenger numbers first began in March, and since then, the numbers continue to show strong growth, which he believes points to a strong regional economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nationally, Vicari said the top flight markets showing increases in passenger numbers are places in the Mountain West and popular beach destinations.
The airport had 16% more seats available to fill in June 2021 compared with June 2020, thanks to added flights.
Since June 2020, Delta and Frontier airlines have added flights out of DRO.
Delta is flying daily to Salt Lake City. Frontier is flying four days a week to Denver International Airport during the summer season and has year-round Monday and Friday flights to Las Vegas.
Because of the high number of summer passengers, congestion at the airport is an issue and departing passengers should arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their departure time.
“The facilities we are managing are tight, and we have some congestion, especially during peak flight periods,” he said. “We’ve had backup lines at the TSA screening checkpoint.
“Because our facility is pressured, showing some challenges in terms of being slightly undersized, we’re actively discussing the potential to reinvigorate our terminal development discussion moving forward,” Vicari said.
The Airport Commission and Vicari are looking at the scope of work and timeline for initiating design efforts for a first phase of terminal expansion, he said.
Looking forward to winter, Vicari expected numbers to remain strong as visitors continue to prefer outdoor recreational activities for leisure travel.
But the airport’s best numbers are June to August, with September being the next busiest month. Vicari anticipates winter numbers will remain strong compared with historical winter month averages but will not match the number of summer travelers the airport sees.
The strong numbers are being driven not just by arriving passengers.
Vicari said locals are increasing their leisure travels as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
“We’re seeing huge local demand,” he said. “Our parking numbers, which are representative of local use, are well-above pre-pandemic levels.”
June’s record month included 20,777 departing passengers and 21,070 arriving passengers.
So far this summer, the airport’s parking lots have not filled to capacity, but Vicari said the airport is regularly using its main overflow lots.
The airport operates as an enterprise fund of the city of Durango and generates self-sustaining revenue from airport tenants and users in the form of airline rent and landing fees, terminal concessions, ground leases and parking fees. The airport does not receive any local tax funding.