A record number of passengers were reported out of the St. George Regional Airport in 2014, continuing an upward trend seen since the facility opened five years ago.
According to new enplanement data released by the Federal Aviation Administration last week, there were 59,321 boardings counted at the airport last year. It represents an 8.7 percent increase over the previous year and a 60 percent increase over 2010, the last full year of operations at St. George’s old airport.
Renamed from a “municipal” airport to a “regional” one earlier this summer, the airport has seen a steady increase each of the last four years, with one big jump between 2011 and 2012 when Denver was added as a second destination along with Salt Lake City.
“It denotes bigger services, more commercial services available from a marketing standpoint,” Airport Manager Richard Stehmeier said of the name change. “I know as a pilot I’d take the ‘regional’ every time, because I’d know they had more services.”
According to the rankings, St. George Regional now ranks 266th out of 510 commercial service airports tracked by the FAA.
It is also Utah’s third busiest airport, according to the FAA data, trailing Salt Lake City (10.1 million passengers) and Provo (62,011).
Salt Lake City was the 25th busiest airport in the country.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International remained the busiest airport in the U.S. with 46.6 million passengers, followed by Los Angeles International (34.3 million) and Chicago O’Hare (33.8 million.)
The increases in St. George have come despite the limited destinations — passengers can choose between four daily flights between Salt Lake City or two flights between Denver.
Officials have been working to encourage an additional flight to a southwest destination like Phoenix or Los Angeles, but the area’s only current commercial airline, St. George-based SkyWest Airlines, has not announced any plans to expand.
The city applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year to help facilitate an expansion, offering to chip in with local cash and pre-purchased tickets, but a list of grant recipients released last week did not include St. George.
When it opened in January of 2011, the $160 million project — the largest in St. George’s history — was touted as safer alternative to the old airport location atop a mesa in the center of the city, as well as a difference-maker for the local economy and overall image.
Market studies have indicated the demand for airline service is large in St. George and surrounding areas, but nearly 80 percent of the passengers in the market area use other airports. There is a relatively small population of potential passengers in the rest of southwest Utah and managers have cited difficulty competing with the low fares offered in nearby Las Vegas.