Airplane boardings up in Lafayette as economy soars

Lafayette Regional Airport set a record for the number of passengers getting on and off commercial planes in 2013, the fourth record-setting year in a row that a thriving economy bolstered by oil and gas dollars has pushed passenger numbers past the prior year’s figures.

The total number of commercial passengers in 2013 eclipsed 2012 by 2.3 percent, from 460,938 passengers getting on and off planes in 2012 to 471,332 in 2013, an increase of 10,394 passengers year to year, according to numbers from the Lafayette Airport Commission.

Aviation Director Greg Roberts said the increase in 2013 was surprising because the airport started 2013 handicapped, when weather forced the cancelation of 60 flights.

The end of the year also put the brakes on a banner year and even on what turned out to be a banner December.

Even though seven flights were canceled in December because of bad weather, it still turned out to be a record-setting December, when 18,880 people boarded planes and took off from Lafayette, and another 18,359 landed here.

Roberts said 65 percent of commercial air passengers in Lafayette fly for business purposes.

“A lot of it is oil and gas. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “People leaving here and going up to the Dakotas and Idaho and Montana, and even into Pennsylvania.”

Other professionals, those in retail, medical and education, also are flying in Lafayette in record numbers, Roberts said.

Lafayette Airport Commission Chairman Matt Cruse, in a prepared statement, thanked those choosing the Lafayette airport.

“We know every traveler has a choice when making travel plans and we are grateful so many are choosing to fly Lafayette,” Cruse said.

More people flying through Lafayette translates into more airport money to pay for infrastructure. A portion of the price for every commercial plane ticket in the country is dedicated to the Aviation Trust Fund, which redistributes the money back to airports based on the number of passengers each has, Roberts said.

The passenger numbers do not include those flying in and out of Lafayette Regional Airport on private, noncommercial flights.

Roberts said efforts are underway at the airport to expand private aviation. Two hangars currently are under construction that, once completed, will service the private planes and pilots that call Lafayette home.

“Individuals have come together and formed a corporation to build hangars,” Roberts said. “It’s private individuals putting their capital at risk to build these hangars. That shows a lot of confidence.”

Jason El Koubi, president and chief executive officer for the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, said the growth of commercial passenger numbers and private plane projects at the airport reflects South Louisiana’s current business boom.

El Koubi said job and business ventures in Acadiana should continue to attract air travelers to the region.

Three commercial carriers provide service to Lafayette passengers: American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines.