VALPARAISO – The fast-growing Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport set a new passenger count record for fiscal 2017 with a total of 1,134,209 passengers, according to Okaloosa County Airports Director Tracy Stage.
“We’re over 1 million passengers, which smashes any record in the 60-year history of the airport,” Stage said Thursday.
Fiscal 2017 ended Sept. 30. The airport's passenger total was almost 30 percent higher than the previous record of 874,277 passengers in fiscal 2016.
“That is tremendous growth,” said Stage, who added that the local commercial airport is one of the fastest growing in the Southeast.
He attributed the new record to the big growth spurts of each of the five airlines that serve the aiport: Allegiant, American Airlines, Contour Airlines, Delta and United.
A huge boost in air traffic and passenger numbers came when Allegiant added 11 cities to its flight roster earlier this year, Stage said. Allegiant, which began its operations in January 2016, now flies to 16 cities.
Other factors in the passenger count jump include Delta boosting its number of flights to Atlanta and American increasing its number of flights to Dallas, Stage said. Both airlines also have added larger seat-capacity aircraft to their fleets, Stage said.
“American Airlines by themselves for the year are up 31 percent in passengers,” he said.
Stage also reported that 123 new jobs were added at the airport during the past year. They include new positions with the airlines, food/beverage and concessions, and rental car companies.
“The rental car businesses are doing tremendously well,” Stage said.
The storm-filled September that much of Florida and the Southeast experienced didn’t hurt passenger traffic. The airport saw a more than 23 percent increase in its passenger total in September compared to September 2016.
And for August, the airport saw an almost 47 percent increase in passengers compared to August 2016.
Overall, “Our region is benefiting tremendously because of the success of the airport,” Stage said.
Okaloosa County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel, who is a member of the county's Aviation Board and serves as the liaison between the commission and the Airports Department, agreed.
The airport’s overall growth represents “a win-win for our economy here in Northwest Florida,” she said. “We have been discovered, and a lot of people are returning here not just for vacation, but to become homeowners. I can’t say enough about Mr. Stage and how he has brought opportunities for the airlines that we’ve never seen before.”