After posting record passenger statistics for 2016, the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is rewriting the record books so far in 2017.
But the numbers are only one piece of a story that includes a community-wide effort to recruit new airlines and add more destinations, an international flight for the first time since Key Airlines left in 1993, and expansions needed sooner than anticipated.
April numbers are up 11 percent over the same month last year, with nearly a quarter-million passengers using the airport in that month alone. Total passengers for 2017 through April number more than 730,000, an increase of 13 percent over the same period last year.
The number of available seats in April also grew by double digits.
Greg Kelly, airport executive director, attributed the continued passenger growth to the addition of flight options from seven airlines — Air Canada, Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Sun Country and United — offering nonstop service to a variety of major cities including Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and, most recently, Toronto .
Delta Airlines, which has traditionally captured the lion’s share of the Savannah/Hilton Head market, was down slightly in April but continues to lead market share with 38 percent.
That’s followed by American with a 24-percent market share, United Airlines at 17 percent, JetBlue at 12 percent, Allegiant at 8 percent and Sun Country at 1 percent.
In addition to boasting 23 destinations with 49 daily nonstop departures, the airport also offers several weekly nonstop flights and seasonal destinations.
While not yet part of the airport’s reported numbers, Air Canada’s daily nonstop service to Toronto, which began May 1, has once again made the airport a true international destination, something it hasn’t had since the early 1990s, when the airport was a hub for Key Airlines flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.
“It’s is hard to anticipate the level of growth we are seeing,” airport executive director Greg Kelly said.
“In 2013, our enplanements were approximately 840,000. Last year, our enplanements were just under 1.1 million. This year we are on track to hit 1.2 million,” he said, adding that he attributes the growth to the collective efforts of an air service development partnership established in 2013 and consisting of the Savannah Airport Commission, the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, Visit Savannah, the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
Brad DiFiore, managing director of Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, has been working in tandem with Lori Lynah, the airport’s director of marketing and air service development, for the last five years. Together with Kelly’s air service task force, they have courted JetBlue, Allegiant, Air Canada and Sun Country while working with established airlines to add destinations.
“Air service development in SAV has been focused on repositioning the Savannah and Hilton Head markets as destinations rather than just origins,” DiFiore said this week.
“Airlines now see that new, nonstop, low-fare flights can stimulate latent demand from more distant, non-traditional markets. Basically, it has been a ‘Field of Dreams’ scenario — when they fly it, people will come. But, for this to be the case, it needs to be the right airline model and the right origin market.
“So we’ve been focused on identifying viable markets that fit within the business models of our partner airlines,” DiFiore said. “While we’ve seen a lot of recent growth, some of that was catching up to the pent-up demand that we’ve never tapped into before.”
Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah and a member of the task force, knows all about demand, especially from those looking at Savannah as a vacation destination of choice.
“We originally set the priorities to get nonstop JetBlue service from New York and Boston and American service from Reagan National in Washington, D.C.,” he said, adding that both have been accomplished and are performing well.
“We now have service from all three New York City airports as well as all three Washington, D.C. airports,” he said.
“This is huge.”
With the success of those new services, Allegiant has come in and added close to a dozen cities, most of them in the Midwest — always a strong draw for Savannah. Sun Country has added the Minneapolis/St. Paul market.
With those services humming along, airport officials have turned their attention to the south and west.
“Service to South Florida remains a top priority of ours and given the successful track record of our air service development partnership, there is no doubt that we will succeed on that front as well,” Kelly said, adding that the airport is already planning for more flights.
“Our current growth, coupled with additional growth to come, has put us in a position of needing to add additional gates and security checkpoint space sooner than we had originally planned.
“As such, we have initiated the design of a four-gate expansion with a new security checkpoint. We hope to be under construction within a year.”
BY THE NUMBERS
April 2016 April 2017 YTD 2016 YTD 2017
Allegiant 4,377 9,488 6,071 24,313
American 24,241 27,776 80,277 92,728
Delta 43,929 42,978 146,752 147,988
JetBlue 11,824 13,424 41,149 45,087
Sun Country 665 888 665 888
United 15,211 19,307 42,967 52,968
ON THE WEB