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Logan expects to set a record

Rival airports seeing declines

By Katie Johnston
Globe Staff / December 31, 2011
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A record number of passengers flew in and out of Logan International Airport this year, even as the number of travelers using T.F. Green near Providence and Boston-Manchester Regional in New Hampshire continued to decrease.

Logan officials attribute much of the growth to the arrival of low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines in 2009, and the expansion of another low-cost airline, JetBlue, which operates the most flights at Logan.

The carriers’ passenger counts each grew by at least 25 percent in the first 11 months of 2011, compared with the same period a year earlier.

“Customers are using Logan more than they ever did, which is great news for everyone,’’ said Edward Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan. “The more passengers you have, that generates more revenue.’’

While the final numbers for December have not yet been compiled, Massport projects that 28.8 million passengers will have flown in and out of Logan this year, up 5 percent from 2010. The previous high in Boston was 28.1 million passengers, set in 2007, which was followed by a 7 percent drop in passengers in 2008.

The banner year at Logan is another sign that Boston’s travel and tourism industry is rebounding from the recent recession. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority reported that 2012 will be the best year for conventions since 2007, based on booked events. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau projects a record number of overseas visitors next year.

During the Big Dig, Logan was losing market share to T.F. Green and Manchester. Both those airports drew passengers who wanted to fly Southwest and avoid the traffic nightmares caused by road construction. But those advantages came to an end when the megaproject was completed and Southwest came to Logan.

Henry Helgeson was one of the frequent travelers who strayed to T.F. Green and Manchester but is now a loyal Logan flier. The shops, free Wi-Fi, and new carriers such as Virgin America have made flying out of Boston easier, he said.

“I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been delayed and been able to continue working at Logan as if I was still in my office,’’ said Helgeson, president of the Boston credit card processing company Merchant Warehouse Inc.

Passenger numbers at T.F. Green and Manchester hit record highs in 2005, but have been declining ever since. When final figures for 2011 are compiled, Providence officials expect a slight decline from last year, less than 1 percent, to 3.93 million, while Manchester projects a 4 percent decrease to 2.7 million.

These passenger declines are less severe than in years past. At Manchester, for example, traffic fell nearly 14 percent in 2009, and T.F. Green had a 9 percent drop in 2010.

Officials at these airports attribute the declines to the consolidation of the airline industry as carriers merge and reduce service. Smaller airports such as T.F. Green and Manchester have taken the brunt of these cuts, said Debby McElroy, executive vice president of the Airports Council International-North America.

“As the economy declined and fuel prices increased, the airlines took a hard look at their system, and in the markets where they had the least profitability, they reduced or eliminated service,’’ she said. “In 2011, almost 500 airports had fewer flights than the previous year, and none of those were large hubs.’’

At T.F. Green, officials say the airport can get back to its 2005 peak if they are able to recruit more airlines and add flights. In September, JetBlue president David Barger expressed interest in expanding to Providence even as the airline looks to grow from 100 to 150 flights a day at Logan.

Kevin Dillon, chief executive of the Rhode Island Airport Corp., which operates T.F. Green, said smaller airports still have advantages, such as cheaper parking, shorter security lines, and easy-to-navigate terminals.

“If we have the seats, we will fill them,’’ Dillon said. “People prefer to fly out of a regional airport like T.F. Green because of what I’ll call the hassle factor.’’

In Manchester, airport officials said that new nonstop jet service to Denver, Fort Lauderdale, and New York City offered by different airlines should help boost passenger numbers.

At Logan, Massport officials say 2012 could be another record-breaking year, in part because of an increase in international service. Japan Airlines will launch nonstop flights to Tokyo in April. Airport officials also hope to add new service to Brussels and Mexico City next year, and is in talks about service to China.

“We have the market here,’’ said Massport’s Freni. “That’s why an airline like JAL is willing to put seat capacity in here and start what I think is going to be a huge addition to this airport.’’

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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