ST. CLOUD — 2018 was a good year for the St. Cloud Regional Airport, according to Director Bill Towle.
STC saw an increase in commercial passengers and general aviation traffic from the previous year.
General aviation — such as corporate flights or pilot training — and hangar usage also increased last year.
“We average 40 airplanes a day. There’s a lot of activity out here… there’s people coming and going generally all the time,” Towle said.
The number of total passengers was up 5.3 percent from 38,659 in 2017 to 40,821 in 2018.
“I like to use the number of total passengers,” Towle said. “Just so the public really gets an idea of how many people are actually going through the facility.”
Towle estimated another 20,000 people visited the airport in 2018 to meet and greet passengers.
Enplanements were up 7.27 percent from 19,304 to 20,818 and deplanements were up 3.24 percent fro 19,335 to 20,003. The 815 person gap in incoming passengers, Towle said, is likely due to snow birds who left for the winter late last year and won’t return until this spring.
While passenger numbers were up, there were eight fewer landings in 2018 compared to 2017. Towle said the increase in passengers and decrease in landings was due to Allegiant switching to a larger A320 aircraft, which carries about 20 more passengers than the previously used A319 aircraft.
The busiest month for the airport was in March when Allegiant increased flights to Arizona to four times per week. Nearly 8,000 people flew that month.
“It’s a good time for the grandparents to come back and visit, and it’s also a good time because it’s spring break and kids are out of school,” Towle said of the bump in spring passengers. “Families can take that week and just get out of town… and it looks like people are taking advantage of it.”
In March 2017, Allegiant flew to Arizona three times a week and last year the airline flew four flights per week during STC’s busiest month. This year, Allegiant plans to offer five flights per week in March and the first week in April.
But a big question still looms: with an increase in passengers, when can we expect more flights and direct destinations?
“We’re hopeful. We continue to push (Allegiant) for additional destinations,” Towle said. “They really want to see the demand on what we have here and if that demand continues to increase… maybe there is a demand for a new destination as well.”
Towle said Orlando or Las Vegas would likely be popular destination for Central Minnesota travelers, according to traveler ZIP code data compiled by an air service consultant.
Allegiant is STC’s only commercial air carrier. It offers year-round direct flights to Mesa, Arizona near Phoenix and seasonal flights to Punta Gorda, Florida near Fort Myers.