By Patrick McCreless PANAMA CITY BEACH — Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport growth took off in the last decade, capping it with a total of 1.3 million passengers for 2019.
The ECP has seen consistent growth since the previous airport closed in 2009 as it has added more flights and destinations to draw in passengers. The growth has helped attract economic development and made it easier to expand tourism in the area, officials say.
“Tourism is a big business for us ... tourism is where there is market growth,” Parker McClellan, executive director of the ECP, said of why the airport has been so successful the last 10 years.
The improvement has been stark.
In contrast, the old airport reported a grand total of 312,000 passengers during its final year of operation in 2009, McClellan said.
He noted that the ECP saw gains last year despite much of Bay County being mired in recovery work from Hurricane Michael.
ECP data shows that the airport had a 20.3% jump in enplanements in 2019, year-over-year. The airport also had a 21.2% increase in deplanements over the same period.
McClellan noted that the hurricane actually helped spur some of the airport’s business growth last year.
“There are some of those numbers that were a result of the hurricane,” McClellan said. “A lot of people were coming and going and helping our community.”
Becca Hardin, president of the Bay Economic Development Alliance, said having a vibrant, growing airport has been a boon for attracting new business and industry to the area.
“It is critically important that we have an airport that is steadily increasing passenger traffic and has more routes to major cities,” Hardin said.
Hardin said one of the top requirements industries have before moving to an area is a good transportation network.
“They need to know they have access to major cities,” she said. “There are multiple flights to Dallas, D.C. and Baltimore ... they can access many markets from our airports.”
And while the airport has benefited from local effort to expand tourism over the years, it has helped bring more visitors and their wallets to the county’s warm, sandy beaches.“
We strive year over year to have plenty of events and activities year-round for visitors ... and offering more flights than ever gives people up north a chance to jump on a quick flight down here,” said Lacee Rudd, public relations manager for Visit Panama City Beach.
Rudd said the local tourism industry did relatively well last year despite hurricane recovery and expects more growth this season.
McClellan said he expects similar growth at the ECP this year too.
“We know this summer is going to be a bigger summer than last with Southwest Airlines and United Airlines adding flights,” McClellan said. “There’s going to be more flights in March ... and American Airlines is adding additional cities this summer.”
Posted Jan 26, 2020 at 1:16 PM