More passengers went through Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport last year than ever before in its seven-decade history, officials said Friday.
The New Orleans airport served almost 10.7 million travelers, up 9.1 percent from the year before. The airport’s previous record was about 9.9 million passengers in 2000.
With the addition of new routes and a new regional charter operator, the airport now has the largest number of nonstop destinations served by the largest number of airlines in its history.
All told, the New Orleans airport was the seventh-fastest-growing facility in the country in 2015 in terms of its passenger count, according to an Airline Weekly analysis.
Leading that charge were a number of low-fare, high-fees carriers such as Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines, which now offer budget-conscious travelers a handful of new nonstop destinations, including Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida. Spirit will add service to Atlanta and Los Angeles in April.
Altogether, the airport has 14 airlines that provide service to 52 destinations, including four international locations.
Seth Kaplan, a managing partner at Airline Weekly, an industry publication, expects that the New Orleans airport’s rapid growth will slow in the first half of 2016 but still climb about 2 percent from the same period last year.
“It looks like last year was a phenomenal growth year,” he said. “This year, it will continue growing but probably by a lesser clip.”
Last year, the New Orleans airport ranked No. 37 nationwide in passengers, a benchmark that has slowly risen in the past decade after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Before the storm, the airport was No. 40. After Katrina, it fell to No. 56.
A goal set by Iftikhar Ahmad, who has been aviation director in New Orleans since 2010, is breaking into the top 30, which would put New Orleans among the airports that each handle at least 1 percent of the nation’s passengers.
By comparison, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, served nearly 92 million passengers in 2014, or nearly nine times New Orleans’ total last year.
Armstrong Airport’s restaurants — which were largely renovated and replaced amid a $305 million renovation ahead of the 2013 Super Bowl — served 393,671 cups of coffee, 228,253 beignets, 136,886 po-boys and 58,011 cups of gumbo in 2015.
In two years, the airport is slated to open a new 650,000-square-foot terminal, a $650 million project to replace the existing building.
The more efficiently designed terminal will be about half the size of the current facility. That means lower maintenance and cooling costs.
Airport officials hope the new terminal will allow them to add more international flights, a business that has largely left New Orleans since the 1970s in favor of Houston.
“The new terminal will be transformational,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Friday. “We appreciate the airlines’ continued investment in our market and look forward to providing an even greater experience when the new North Terminal is unveiled in 2018.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.