Stewart Airport passenger traffic shrinks with cutbacks, down economy
Passenger traffic at Stewart International Airport dipped by 12 percent last year as regional airports continue to bear the brunt of the economic downturn and airline cutbacks.
Stewart was the only one of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's four airports to witness a decrease in passengers last year, from 413,654 in 2011 to 364,848 in 2012, agency statistics released Thursday show.
Kennedy Airport set a record with 49.3 million passengers last year while its Queens neighbor, LaGuardia Airport, tallied a 6.6 percent increase from 2011 for a total 25.7 million passengers, according to the Port Authority. The agency's fourth airport, Newark International, witnessed a 1 percent jump in traffic to 34 million passengers between 2011 and 2012.
Stewart's downturn coincides with passenger decreases at Westchester County Airport, where some 150,000 fewer travelers came through the airport last year than in 2011.
"Airlines just don't want to go there (to Stewart)," said aviation consultant Michael Boyd of Evergreen, Colo. "There's not enough traffic anymore."
Much of the decrease at Stewart was linked to a decision by JetBlue -- the airport's busiest carrier -- to trim the size of its Florida-bound jets from a 158-seater to one that holds 100, Port Authority statistics show. The switch caused a 30,000 decrease in JetBlue passengers alone last year.
Also a factor was Delta's elimination of a daily flight to Atlanta in September and reduced seating on its Detroit-bound flights, according to Port Authority data.
The 49,000 passenger decrease represented a steep reversal from 2011, when the Orange County airport saw a nearly 5 percent jump in passenger traffic compared to the year before.
"The wide swings have been a constant characteristic of the airport as carriers move in and out," according to a Port Authority report.
Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico said the airport is working hard to convince major airlines to continue using Stewart, which is in the middle of a $20 million upgrade of its passenger terminal.
"Our aviation staff is working at it constantly," Marsico said.
The Port Authority is studying a major rehabilitation of the airport's two runways at an estimated cost of $143.5 million.
"We envision flights coming back to Stewart and we want the facility up and ready when the flights come back," Marsico said.
Boyd is uncertain whether airport upgrades will be enough for Stewart to rebound. He said the airport, located 60 miles north of New York City, is at a geographic disadvantage with at least three major airports -- LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark -- all within driving distance of Stewart's customer base.
"It's just not what it's cracked up to be," Boyd said. "It's too far from New York City. And in a shrinking airline industry, which is what this is, airlines don't want to go to peripheral places. Kennedy and LaGuardia aren't any fun but they're not far away."
The number of domestic flights at Stewart held steady last year, going from 8,816 in 2011 to 8,837.
Westchester, meanwhile, was down 3,100 flights last year from 2011's total of 164,276.
Westchester's troubles are mostly due to discount airline AirTran's decision in August 2012 to abandon its 10 daily flights at the airport.
Westchester's 1.75 million passenger total last year was its lowest since 2007's 1.65 million.
County officials expect a $2 million hit to the airport's operating budget this year unless AirTran's flights are snatched up by another airline.
So far, the remaining airlines -- Delta, JetBlue, United, American, Cape Air and US Airways -- have not stepped up to bid on AirTran's flights. The next lottery for the flights is scheduled for April.