When they want to know about trends in travel, officials at Lehigh Valley International Airport ask the experts: the people who fly the most.
Many of them are members of the airport’s Aero Club, who fly around 15 times per year. Others work for local companies. They are regularly surveyed and invited to take part in focus groups so the airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, can gauge their needs.
They may discuss new places they would like to fly, but also ways the airport can provide better service, said Colin Riccobon, public information officer for Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which runs the airport and two others in the Lehigh Valley.
Last year, the Aero Club members suggested installing a sidewalk from the frequent-flier parking lot to the main entrance of the terminal, Riccobon said. The airport did end up installing one.
“These are frequent fliers that go to other airports and we value their feedback,” Riccobon said.
Survey results suggest that about 70 percent of airport users are traveling for leisure. But the airport does not officially track the reasons people are flying. Riccobon said, the most frequent fliers are most likely business travelers.
The airport also conducts market research by gathering zip codes to determine where people are flying, which is another way to determine what routes are in demand.
Popular landing spots for business travelers include Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Chicago, according to Riccobon. Those are large airports where travelers can connect with flights to other destinations.
LVIA recently added flights to Nashville, which also has some appeal for business travelers, airport officials said.
“What we’ve heard is there’s certainly a lot of folks excited about Nashville for leisure, but given the growth in Nashville, we’ve heard that travelers go there for business travel,” said Thomas Stoudt, executive director of Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. “That city continues to grow.”
So does the Lehigh Valley, which hit $40.1 billion in gross domestic product, a jump from a record high of $39.1 billion for 2016, according to Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., which cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
And when Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. talks to businesses about locating in the valley, many of them want to know that there is an airport, Riccobon said.
And people are using it
The airport reported that passenger travel increased for the 16th consecutive month with 54,895 passengers traveling through the airport in January, a 3.23 percent increase over January 2018. Passenger traffic has shown growth each month since October 2017.
“It’s showing that there’s ridership here,” Stoudt said.
HARRISBURG INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Passenger traffic, including business travel, is also growing at Harrisburg International Airport in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County.
“Business travel is strong right now,” said Scott Miller, representative for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which operates Harrisburg International. “We are seeing a lot of demand. Over the past year, there’s been an increase.”
In 2018, HIA had 1,294,765 passengers traveling in and out of the airport, an increase of 8 percent as compared to numbers from 2017, Miller said. Last year was HIA’s busiest year since 2013, he added.
For January and February of this year, HIA saw a 10.6 percent increase in passenger traffic compared to the same time last year.
Parking revenue, which can be an indicator of business travel growth, particularly for short-term parking in the garage, also increased.
Last year’s long and short-term parking revenue was $7.9 million, an increase of $7.4 million from the year before, Miller said. In addition, rental car sales increased from $22.6 million in 2017 to $24.3 million in 2018, a 7 percent increase.
However, those figures include some sales from leisure passengers, he added.
The airport has three airlines that serve mostly business travelers and two that primarily serve leisure travelers.
HIA also surveys passengers by industry and finds that those who are consulting and sales professionals tend to fly on American, Delta and United Airlines, while leisure travelers tend to fly on Frontier Airlines and Allegiant, Miller said.
One trend HIA is seeing is an increase in seats and service, which gives passengers the ability to fly more frequently. By adding more routes and increasing the size of planes, the airport can handle more passengers.
“Because the airlines here are growing, they can choose to fly out of Harrisburg more often, because there’s more seats, more service,” Miller said. “We are starting to see 50-seat planes being replaced by larger ones.”
Some of these planes have 90 seats or more, he added.
The airport authority has no formal meetings with businesses such as an air service focus group, but it talks to many companies individually, Miller said.
With major corporations in the areas such as The Hershey Co., Armstrong and Deloitte, many passengers prefer to use HIA for business travel but often the airport’s seats are full, so they do have to drive to other airports, such as Philadelphia, he added.
However, Miller said he expects passenger travel to continue to see strong growth into 2019.