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Travel Scene: Rochester airport’s big year may signal more to come

January 21, 2019

The year 2018 certainly was a banner year for Rochester International Airport. It was, in fact, a record year.

Several factors — not the least of which were local promotions and low airfares — played a part in 366,542 passengers flying in and out of RST. The figure was an all-time high for passenger traffic in the history of the airport. The previous record was 344,566 passengers, set more than 40 years ago, in 1977. Last year’s total also represented a 26 percent increase over the previous year.

“We are increasingly grateful for our increased support,” said John Reed, RST’s executive director. “Local travelers are understanding their choice of airport can have a positive impact on our region and more often they are choosing to Fly Local” — referring to the name of a successful local promotion campaign championed by airport officials and Rochester and area business and industrial leaders.

Reed credits some of the effects of the campaign on the airport’s retention of local travelers, the retention rate having doubled from 12 percent to 24 percent.

Reduced airfares, mainly the result of more competition, also was a major factor in producing increased numbers of passengers.

Flight options from RST increased the past year when United Airlines established new service, Delta Airlines increased flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Atlanta, and American Airlines added larger-capacity aircraft.

As a result of these competitive factors, average airfare at RST declined 13 percent last year.

Local support is vital in retaining and recruiting air service, Reed pointed out. That’s because the air service industry is facing a major challenge of pilot shortages and fewer resources available to the airlines.

RST is committed to making more improvements, Reed said. “Airlines are paying attention to this new commitment to use RST, and based on the travel data, we have a very strong case to recruit service to a western hub like Dallas or Denver. The airport cannot recruit that service alone. It takes local travelers flying the planes now to bring more service to our region.”

RST is owned by the City of Rochester and operated by the Rochester Airport Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mayo Clinic. Three airlines — United, American and Delta —collectively offer 13 flights a day to Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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