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Dayton airport lags behind during busy travel season

Passenger traffic at the Dayton International Airport remains stagnant as other Ohio airports see increased growth driven by cheaper ticket prices and more flight opportunities.

The Dayton airport saw a slight gain in the number of passengers passing through the airport in July compared to the previous year, but that was because Southwest Airline flights ended in June 2017 and are no longer calculated into the comparison.

“Obviously we would like to see the same kind of gains that are taking place at Columbus and Cincinnati,” said Terry Slaybaugh, director of aviation for the city of Dayton. “But the current model being used by air carriers is to concentrate capacity in medium and large hub markets. So I think as a small hub market we’re about where we are expect to be.”

While the 78,226 passengers that boarded a Dayton flight in July is up 0.8 percent from July 2017, it’s not the big gain other airports saw during the busiest summer for travel yet, said local aviation expert Jay Ratliff.

“There’s more people flying now than we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “We’endure travel now, we’re no longer enjoying it.”

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A record 246 million people flew this summer, with 20 of the 25 most traveled days on record occurring this year.

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At the same time, Dayton’s airport passenger traffic has decreased 6.5 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year. Dayton’s last small gain of 0.2 percent was in May 2017.

At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, passenger traffic increased more than 11 percent in July compared to June and more than 16 percent for the year. The airport about 80 miles south of Dayton recently hit a new three-month record of 1.2 million local passengers taking advantage of its dropping airfare.

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“Right now, unfortunately the airlines are pushing a lot of our passengers into their vehicles and driving to get air service,” Slaybaugh said. “That’s what we would like to see a change in —bringing some of that service back to Dayton where the passengers, the customer, actually lives.”

Cincinnati’s airport was traditionally the most expensive in the country, with the average ticket costing $557 in the beginning of 2013. But everything changed for the airport when Frontier came aboard that year, followed by other low-cost carriers that brought the average ticket cost down to $328 in the first quarter of 2018.

“That additional low-cost service has been driving down airfares; we’ve been adding more flights,” said Mindy Kershner, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati airport. “All that is pulling in more passengers from our local communities choosing CVG over surrounding airports.”

That’s a major point of jealousy for other airports in the region, Ratliff said, because in the 1980s the Cincinnati airport was a busy hub, and the passenger counts now are exceeding even those numbers as the airport grows faster than any other in the country.

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“It’s much more impressive when you see people driving to the airport,” he said. Those local flyers will buy gas, pay to park and eat in the city, furthering the local economy.

Some of the 13 percent increased capacity in Cincinnati this year is through new destinations; the airport recently announced seasonal nonstop service to Orlando and Phoenix, and there have been eight other nonstop domestic destinations and three international locations added this year.

Dayton has also added one new destination this year. The nonstop Houston flight serviced by United Airlines came back for the first time since 2011, a much healthier time for the Dayton airport when more than 120,000 flyers boarded planes during the busy June and July months, according to airport data.

The airport also recorded gains several months in 2011 through 2013, when neighboring Cincinnati residents would drive to Dayton to avoid the higher fares at their home airport.

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Slaybaugh said he’s still optimistic about the Dayton airport’s future.

“The airlines are going to continue to get equipment for the foreseeable future,” he said. “As long as they’re continuing to take aircraft deliveries and they’re growing capacity, then that’s always an opportunity for us to get more capacity.”

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