EWING, NJ — Air travel may have not grown nationally, but locally the Trenton-Mercer Airport has seen four digit growth.
On Tuesday, a 12-month study conducted by Sixel Consulting Group, Inc, attributes a 2715 percent bump in outbound passenger travel, at TTN, to Frontier Airlines decisions to make the regional airport the base of its east coast operations.
“This airport was always able to have corporate, private and commercial flights come in and out,” said County Executive Brian Hughes. “We were missing the commercial air traffic and since Frontier began flying out of Mercer County, it has made our region more economically viable.”
The study, which spanned from September 2012 to September 2013, ranked TTN number 1 nationally in growth followed by regional airports in Port Arthur TX, Williston ND and Punta Gorda FL, which round out the top three, according to the report.
A low-cost carrier, Frontier began shuttling passengers in late 2012 with just one scheduled destination from Mercer County to Orlando, Fla. They quickly ramped up the number of destinations to a total of 17, in just 18 months.
“We are excited to have moved to the number one spot in growth, and travelers continue to support Frontier Airlines as shown by the airline’s robust sales,” boasted Hughes.
The increase in passengers using the airport has also caused a surge in revenue received from passenger facility charges and from parking fees. The maximum an airport can charge for PFC fees is $4.50. The county splits the $4.39 PFC per passenger with the air carrier receiving only 11 cents per ticket sold, according to the administration.
Based on Frontier’s 92 percent load factor, equaling nearly a half million passengers a year, the county can bank on approximately $2.2 million in PFC a year.
The additional revenue has been used to revamp the terminal to allow for a larger passenger holding area and satellite parking facilities have been created to support the estimated 1,200 cars which park at the airport. The influx of travelers has curtailed the amount of time to pay back the $900,000 investment to nine months.
Parking fees have been used to improve and create new parking spots, according to the county and the $3 million investment is expected to be completely paid off within three years.
Despite the sharp rise of flights and revenue, the County’s Chief Financial Officer David Miller said the annual filing to the Federal Aviation Association shows the airport operating at a loss in 2012 and 2013 and is expected to continue in 2014 as well.
“It is important to include that the FAA report does not include spin-off revenues such as property taxes and other economic impacts — such as the nearby hotels and restaurants,” said spokesperson Julie Wilmont. “We believe that the economic spin off of the airport exceeds the cost to the county and numerous economic studies support this claim.”
In 2013, Frontier accounted for only 3 percent of overall air traffic at the airport. That number is expected to jump to 4.84 percent, or 3,920 total air activity in 2014.
Regionally, TTN fared much better than Newark International Airport with only a .6 percent uptick in air travel, compared to only a 0.1 percent uptick for Philadelphia International Airport.