Spurred by tourism, Armstrong Airport ranks 3rd in growth

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Reflecting the continued rehabilitation of New Orleans' tourism industry, the city's Louis Armstrong Airport was named the third-fastest-growing airport in the Large, Non-Hubsite class in the recent Aviation Forecast Report issued by aviation industry consulting firm Boyd Group International.

"The airline seats in and out of New Orleans are 82% full, meaning flights are full when people want to travel and the market can support additional service," said Mike Boyd, president of the consulting firm, noting that 65% of people flying into New Orleans are visitors.

"So in an environment in which airlines are looking to add additional revenue, New Orleans is a prime location, and that's why they're going to continue to add capacity over the next year," he said.

The airport's enplanements are expected to grow 9.5%, just behind San Antonio and Lexington, Ky., respectively. Enplanements account for approximately half of the total passengers.

Based on airline schedules posted for December, Armstrong will see a 7% increase in available seats compared with December 2007 and is expected to match or exceed pre-Hurricane Katrina levels by 2014.

"New Orleans is one of those airports in which there is still potential for growth," said Michelle Wilcut, public relations manager for Armstrong. "Other airlines are experiencing their downturn now, whereas we began rebuilding our service three years ago after Katrina.

"We continue to be underserved, but with a full convention schedule next year, I think we're going to continue to see more flights coming back," she added.

While the growth is largely attributed to growing demand in tourism circles, airport officials point to what they call high levels of traveler satisfaction. This year, the airport placed fourth in J.D. Power and Associates' 2008 North American Airport Satisfaction Index Study, in the Small Airport Category.

"I believe this recognition is due in part to our ongoing improvement campaign that was begun in December 2006," said Dan Packer, chairman of the New Orleans Aviation Board. "Over the next two years, extensive renovations should add to the positive trend in customer satisfaction."

While New Orleans sees growth, other U.S. airports anticipate capacity reductions as great as 15%, according to the Boyd study. Boyd noted that U.S. carriers are reducing fleet size due to the slow economy.

"Capacity reductions, not falling demand by consumers, will be the initial driver in falling enplanement numbers, at least in the next 12 months," said Boyd.

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