POCATELLO — More competitive airfare rates coupled with the addition of a fourth flight on a trial basis helped the Pocatello Regional Airport reach a 10-year high for passenger numbers during 2018, according to Airport Manager Benjamin West.
West said passengers flying from the airport rose for a third consecutive year and were up by 15 percent from 2017.
West said 90,661 passengers flew from Pocatello in 2018. The long-term trend has been especially encouraging. In 2009, for example, the number of passengers departing from the airport was a little more than half the current travel volume.
“Small airports like ourselves, we’re always concerned about our passenger numbers,” West said.
West said recent market trends have been favorable for the Pocatello airport, which faces strong competition from the airports in Idaho Falls and Salt Lake City.
“In the recent past, flights were cheaper here compared with Idaho Falls,” West said.
He said Pocatello’s airport has a competitive advantage against other regional airports in that it doesn’t charge for parking. Furthermore, he said it’s far less time consuming for customers to check their bags and go through security at the Pocatello airport.
Another major factor behind the local airport’s increased business was the temporary addition of a fourth flight, West said.
In March, SkyWest, which operates in partnership with Delta Air Lines, experimented with a new flight from both the Pocatello and Twin Falls airports.
Pocatello’s extra flight departed at 3 p.m. SkyWest discontinued the extra flight during the first week of November, based on passenger numbers that were a bit lower than the three longer-established departures. The airport is now back to offering flights from Pocatello to Salt Lake City daily at 6:50 a.m., 12:40 p.m. and 6:35 p.m.
West said the 3 p.m. flight averaged in the high 60s for the percentage of seats filled, while the other three flights have held steady in the 80s.
“Myself and (Mayor Brian Blad) will be visiting SkyWest in the near future and will work hard to get that (3 p.m. flight) back,” West said.
Even during the time in 2018 in which the 3 p.m. flight wasn’t offered, West said the number of passengers served by the airport was up from the prior year.
“That’s why I have high expectations that 2019 will be a good year for us, too,” West said.
He believes population growth anticipated in the city also bodes well for the airport, which he’s managed since joining the staff in July.
This year, West said the airport plans to use Federal Aviation Administration funds to improve the apron area, where passengers load and unload. He said the airport also plans to upgrade parking areas for Bureau of Land Management aircraft used in wildland firefighting. The airport is in the midst of renegotiating its lease with the BLM, West said.
“We are trying to help them so they can expand their operations here,” he said.
The airport is also working with the city and Bannock Development Corp to develop a business park, which would take advantage of opportunities for intermodal freight access using the aircraft, rail and trucks.
“Maybe in the next five years we’ll probably see some of those companies come in, so we’re excited about that,” West said. “The airport is a gateway to Pocatello, it’s a gateway for citizens of Pocatello to get anywhere in the world, and with our business park, it also is a gateway to bring in technology companies and industrial companies.”