Passenger Trips at Tri-Cities Airport Keep Setting Records

by Scott Richter & Dr. Patrick Jones

Airport passenger activity is one reflection of the local population's long-distance travel needs. Airports are an essential part of a community's physical infrastructure. They facilitate the ability of its local businesses to conduct commerce, serve visitors who arrive for various reasons, and assist local residents with travel for family and pleasure. Airport passenger activity also impacts the local economy through visitor spending, airport operations, capital projects, and employment.

Looking at the Total Number of Passenger Trips at Tri-Cities Airport indicator, we see a trend line that resembles an airplane gaining altitude .  

During 2018, the airport registered a total of 395,084 passenger trips, increasing from 204,573, or by 93.1% since 2001. Since 2009 when there were 258,549, passenger trips have increased by 52.8%.

Enplanements include both departing and arriving passengers. So a traveler flying out of the Tri-Cities Airport will be counted twice: once on departure and once when they return.

Buck Taft, Director of Tri-Cities Airport, said population growth in the area “is a direct correlation” to air passenger trip growth.

“As a community grows, travel services will also grow to meet new demands”, said Taft .

While true, the growth of passenger trips at the Tri-Cities Airport has been increasing at a little faster pace than the population. From 2001 to 2018, the population has grown cumulatively by 48.6% compared to 93.1% growth of passenger enplanements. Over the last 10-years, the population of Benton and Franklin Counties combined has grown by 19.8% while passenger enplanements increased by 52.8%.

According to the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, the $42 million expansion of the TriCities Airport, completed in early 2017, not only doubled the size of the terminal, much of the previously existing layout was redesigned to offer a better visitor experience.

A growing list of non-stop flights available to and from TriCities Airport, which will include non-stop flights to Los Angeles starting at the end of March, 2019.

When asked where air travelers at the Tri-Cities Airport who live outside of Benton & Franklin Counties originated from, Taft said originating zip-codes of ticket purchases were often from Yakima and Walla Walla Counties. Outside of Washington State, tickets purchased in Hermiston, Oregon were also common.  

Using the same passenger enplanement to compare data for airports across the country, Tri-Cities Airport has increased by 55.1% over the past decade, putting it among the fastest growing airports in the U.S. This growth rate is comparable to the growth at San Francisco International (55.7%), but ahead of passenger trip growth at Seattle-Tacoma International (48.8%).

People who really dig into this data might find a slight discrepancy between passenger enplanements reported by the Tri-Cities Airport, or any airport offering passenger flights, and what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports. While the number is quite small, this indicator uses data from both the FAA and individual airports.

Sharon Glasgow, with the FAA, said the difference is most likely because air carriers will “usually provide the airport with the total number of passengers which includes non-revenue and revenue [while] the carriers only report revenue passengers to the DOT/FAA.”