Jul. 24—The Dayton International Airport has higher air fares, fewer flights and less foot traffic than its primary competitors, but local leaders insist the facility is one of the region’s most important assets that has some key competitive advantages.
Dayton’s airport is the closest commercial aviation facility to roughly 1.5 million people, and parking and the security processes are easier than at other airports, local leaders said.
“What makes it great for me, and I’m sure others, is it’s easy to and through,” said Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw. “It’s very easy to get in and out of there, with very little hassle, and that’s important . “
Dayton’s airport, like many others, has seen a reduction in air service, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it faces challenges with pilot and aircraft shortages.
But the airport is spending tens of millions of dollars on renovations that officials believe will greatly improve the passenger experience.
“The Dayton International Airport is a vital infrastructure asset serving the Dayton region,” said Julie Sullivan, executive vice president of regional development with the Dayton Development Coalition. “Although business and leisure travel patterns have changed across the globe in recent years, opportunity exists.” for (the airport) to adapt to meet these new demands and grow into the future. “
The Dayton airport is the 109th largest commercial airport in the United States based on passenger volumes, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
It is much smaller than its main competitors in Columbus, Indianapolis and Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky, which are located roughly 65 to 130 miles away.
In the first half of this year, the Dayton airport had about 295,040 outbound passengers. The Columbus International Airport had more than 1.4 million enplanements through the end of May. Both the Indianapolis and Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airports this year have had roughly six times as many enplanements as the Dayton facility.
Dayton’s airport has nonstop flights to about 12 locations, and officials hope that it will regain flights to Denver and Minneapolis at some point. The Indianapolis airport has flights to 44 nonstop destinations, and Cincinnati and Columbus each have more than that.
Flights out of Dayton also tend to be more expensive. Dayton airport passengers on average paid about $ 404 for airfare in the first quarter of 2022, which was by far the highest in Ohio, according to survey data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The Columbus airport had the second-highest average fare in the state ($ 340), while the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky aviation facility had the third highest ($ 328). Average fares in Indianapolis were about $ 332.
Bigger not always better
Local business leaders have long said that travelers who use the Dayton airport avoid the headaches of getting to and flying out of Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Columbus, including drive times and parking.
Wait times to get through the TSA security checkpoint Dayton airport on average are considerably shorter than at the other airports, according to information on the TSA mobile app.
“Tickets might be few dollars less at another airport right now, but the big question is how much of your time and effort is worth saving on the price of a ticket?” Said Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce “Consumers pay a little more for convenience every day, flying out of (Dayton International Airport) is no different.”
The Dayton chamber says the airport is an economic driver that helps attract businesses and talent to the region.
“Dayton is a business travelers airport,” Kershner said. “There is no other airport around that you can get to in a 20-minute drive, park in a covered garage, return emails in a private business lounge and be at your gate in 15 minutes. “
Ease of travel is important to many types of travelers, but business travelers in particular demand it, said Faye Malarkey Black, president and CEO of the Regional Airline Association, which represents about 150 associate members and 22 regional airlines.
Many people and businesses will think twice about relocating to a community if it’s hard to get in and out of by plane, she said.
“It is so much easier — it’s worth the extra cost to come to Dayton,” Shaw said.
Shaw said he thinks there could be opportunities to attract more travelers to the Dayton airport, such as construction on the Brent Spence Bridge that makes it harder to get to the Cincinnati airport.
Airport officials more than a year ago said that about 45% of the airport’s core market of passengers fly out of other aviation facilities.
City leaders and airport officials have urged community members to “fly local” in the hopes of reducing passenger “leakage” to its competitors.
If more people decided to fly out of Dayton, airlines likely would add more flights, seat capacity and new destinations, local officials and leaders said.
More direct flights are needed to meet the growing demands of the business community, Kershner said. He added that direct flights to the West Coast and East Coast destinations like Boston would be helpful.
The Dayton airport also plans to invest more than $ 40 million into upgrades that officials hope will significantly improve the passenger experience.
On Wednesday, the Dayton City Commission approved a $ 15 million contract to rehab the airport’s terminal apron. The project will include the demolition and reconstruction of 54,000 square feet of space.
The airport has spent more than $ 30 million on projects in recent years that included the replacement of terminal entrances and the renovation of the terminal canopy and interior.
Now, the airport is constructing new connectors to reduce the walk from security to the concourses and gates.
Other planned investments include consolidating food concessions into a new second-floor space that is within eyeshot of the gates and centralizing the escalators beyond TSA.
“We’re investing in it heavily, and it’s going to be really, really nice,” Shaw said.
The airport has already received $ 4 million in infrastructure funding and expects to receive more than $ 21 million in infrastructure grants over five years, said US Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, during a visit to the airport earlier this month.
“Here at James M. Cox Airport, we’re investing more than $ 20 million to upgrade facilities, improve travel, and support local businesses,” Brown said.
The Dayton City Commission also recently approved requesting more than $ 14 million in federal grant funding for infrastructure and terminal improvements at the airport from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” said Joe Parlette, Dayton’s deputy city manager.
COVID’s lingering impact
Air travel was decimated by the COVID pandemic, and Dayton’s airport is still recovering.
The airport’s passenger traffic plummeted more than 62% in 2020 during the crisis, but it rebounded some last year.
In the first half of this year, passenger traffic is up 32%, compared to the first two quarters of 2021. Still, the airport has had 145,635 fewer enplanements this year compared to the 2019.
Back in May, Gil Turner, Dayton’s aviation director, said the airport saw good passenger traffic growth in March, during spring break.
May had the second-most enplanements since February 2020, before COVID led to lockdowns and major disruptions. June’s passenger traffic numbers were the third highest since the start of the pandemic.
“So far, the trend is moving up,” he said.
By the numbers
295,040: Number of enplanements at the Dayton International Airport so far in 2022
$ 404: Average air fare at the Dayton airport in Q1 of 2022
12: Number of nonstop destinations offered at the Dayton airport
109: Dayton’s national ranking in size, based on passenger traffic