More passengers flew on domestic flights from Fresno Yosemite International Airport through the first 10 months of last year than any previous year. And with November and December still to be reported by federal transportation officials, the airport was cruising toward a record number of passengers for the entire year.
From January through October, almost 514,000 passengers boarded flights in Fresno to other destinations in the U.S., according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation. And those numbers don't include another 37,000 passengers who flew from Fresno through July on international flights to Mexico aboard Aeromexico or Volaris, two Mexico-based airlines.
"We've seen the airlines slowly upgrade their aircraft and add seasonal flights," said Kevin Meikle, Fresno's director of aviation. "As we see airlines make the changes to their fleets and add more seats, in our market those seats get filled."
Fresno's record for passenger traffic, dating back to 1990, was 607,455 in 2007. That year, the figure for the first 10 months was just shy of 504,000.
While Fresno is on pace for a new record locally, the airport remains a small fry compared to the nation's busiest airports. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport boarded 33.8 million passengers on domestic flights through October -- far and away the leading airport in the U.S. despite a 1.7% drop from its 2012 passenger traffic. Chicago's O'Hare International, the second-ranked airport, had 22.5 million boardings.
Among California airports, Los Angeles International saw almost 19.9 million passenger boardings to rank fifth nationally, while San Francisco International was ninth in the U.S. with 14.1 million boardings.
More than half of the passengers flying from Fresno last year were carried by Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, which contracts to provide flights for United Express, Delta Connection, US Airways Express, American Eagle and Alaska Airlines. Almost 288,000 people boarded SkyWest airplanes in Fresno between January and October -- 56% of all domestic traffic out of Fresno during that period.
The remaining passengers were divided up among American Airlines, Mesa Air, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, Allegiant Air, American Eagle and Frontier Airlines.
Collectively, airlines offered 10,721 scheduled domestic flights from Fresno through October -- about the same as in the previous two years. U.S. airlines in Fresno provide nonstop flights within California to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Honolulu. International flights fly to Guadalajara, and in December Aeromexico launched seasonal holiday nonstop flights to and from Morelia, Mexico.
"Of the 12 destinations, eight are to substantial airline hubs," Meikle said. "The key in today's industry is connectivity to the world. So from Fresno, you can probably fly anywhere you need to go with just one stop. For an airport our size, that's very valuable."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org or @tsheehan on Twitter.