In its last full year operating out of its existing terminal, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport once again posted record-breaking passenger numbers in 2018, with more than 13.1 million travelers passing through the facility.
The banner year marks the eighth straight year of growth, and the fourth year in a row in which the airport — which will be moving to a new terminal in May — has broken its previous passenger record, according to airport officials.
“The exponential growth of the airport over the last four years can no doubt be attributed to the economic vitality of the greater New Orleans region,” Director of Aviation Kevin Dolliole said in a statement.
All told, the airport saw a 9.3 percent increase in passengers in 2018 over the roughly 12 million who used the facility in 2017.
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“The fact that New Orleans is seeing more than 9 percent growth over 2017 is not just a gold star year — it’s a platinum star year,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco.
Information is not yet available for how all airports across the country performed last year, but in the first three quarters of the year, New Orleans grew at a faster rate than many of the country’s largest airports, Harteveldt said.
The airport’s 10.6 percent growth during that time was twice the rate seen in Atlanta or San Francisco and higher than at Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles and LaGuardia International Airport in New York.
The high growth rate at the airport came as airlines added or expanded coverage on nine routes. Seven more new routes are expected to start this year.
“The airport is working hard to meet the demands of this growing region by actively recruiting and launching new flights,” Dolliole said. “We regularly analyze the greater New Orleans market’s demand for travel and meet with airlines multiple times a year to present a compelling business case that proves community demand and support for the new service.”
The high number of passengers at the airport tracks with expectations that the overall number of visitors to New Orleans increased last year.
A report on the total number of visitors to the city in 2018 won’t be complete until this spring. But New Orleans and Co. spokesman Kristian Sonnier said he expects that number to surpass the 17.74 million who came in 2017, in part due to marketing surrounding the city’s tricentennial last year.
That anniversary was pushed in a marketing campaign and in meetings with The New York Times that landed New Orleans on the paper’s list of 52 places to travel last year, Sonnier said.
“It was an international and national strategic effort to make New Orleans be on the top of people’s leisure and business travel lists,” Sonnier said. “Those results don’t surprise anyone here. Those aren’t accidents; those are things we strategically set out to achieve.”
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Sonnier said he does not expect the overall number of visitors to fall off in part because New Orleans attracts many return visitors.
“There’s so many different layers to our culture. Visitors who come here once or twice or even a handful of times realize they’re just scratching the surface of what they can experience,” Sonnier said. “We work hard to make sure we’re positioning it in different ways in our marketing so it seems like there’s an endless list of reasons to visit our city.”
The growth of tourism in New Orleans in recent years may mean that while the total number of passengers will keep climbing, it will be difficult for the airport to maintain the same rate.
“I don’t know if New Orleans will see the same percentage growth, but I certainly believe 2019 will be another positive year for New Orleans as well as the airline industry in the U.S. and other countries,” Harteveldt said.
The new terminal may also position the airport for more expansion.
“The construction of the new terminal will allow us to have the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of modern travelers and support the growing demand for more air service,” Dolliole said.
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