Passenger traffic at New Orleans' airport set another record last year as the facility continued to build on the strength of its bustling leisure traveler market.
More than 11.1 million travelers went through Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in 2016, up nearly 4 percent from the year before when it served 10.7 million travelers, officials said. The latest passenger mark is the highest in the airport's seven-decade history.
The airport grew at about the national pace, according to one industry expert, which came on the heels of an almost 9 percent bump from 2014 to 2015.
Helping fuel the airport's recent growth were the addition of a number of low-fare, high-fees carriers such as Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines, which offer budget-conscious travelers a handful of new nonstop destinations.
For example, Allegiant this month launched low-cost nonstop service from New Orleans to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina and Cleveland Hopkins International in Ohio.
Southwest Airlines, the airport's largest carrier, also has added seats to the local market. In April, the discount airliner will begin seasonal flights to and from New Orleans to the Raleigh-Durham airport as well as John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio.
Seth Kaplan, a managing partner at Airline Weekly, an industry publication, said the local airport's almost 4 percent jump in growth was "roughly in line with the national average."
"New Orleans in recent years has been growing very rapidly, kind of catching up from what happened after Katrina," Kaplan said. "It sounds like now the growth is more leveled off to where it's just sort of like the average U.S. airport."
Looking ahead at flights for the second quarter, the New Orleans airport is up almost 9 percent from the same period a year ago, according to an Airline Weekly analysis of Diio Mi industry data. That's compared with the national average, which is about 4 percent, he said.
Kaplan predicts that 2017 "will be another good year" for the New Orleans airport, and said he expects higher year-over-year growth.
The return of trans-Atlantic service will help pad this year's figures. Starting next month, British Airways launches nonstop flights to and from London. German airline Condor will begin seasonal service to Frankfurt in May.
The airport has 17 airlines providing service to 59 nonstop destinations, including eight international destinations.
Before 2015, the airport's previous record was about 9.9 million passengers in 2000.
By comparison, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, served more than 100 million passengers in 2015, or nearly nine times New Orleans’ total last year.
In 2015, the New Orleans airport ranked No. 37 nationwide in passengers, a benchmark that has slowly risen over the past decade after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Before the storm, the airport was No. 40. After Katrina, it fell to No. 56.
In 2018, the airport is slated to open a new, 35-gate terminal, a $760 million project to replace the existing building.
Officials said Wednesday that they are adding another five gates to the new terminal at Loui…