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Airport/Aviation Briefs, 5/22/24 roundup

Airport and aviation news from across the region

Dulles Sees Strong International Comeback, Except for China: Excepting Asia, Washington Dulles International Airport is seeing international-service passenger counts in excess – often well in excess – of pre-pandemic times.

According to figures provided in advance of the May 15 Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board meeting, Dulles’s post-COVID growth was outperforming the average of U.S. international gateways, as well.

Figures are based on data from Innovate Airline Services, reported by Diio, and comparing 2024 traffic levels with those in 2019, before the onset of COVID.

The figures show:

• Europe: Service from Dulles is now at 120 percent of pre-pandemic levels, compared to an average rate of 106 percent nationally.

• Latin America: Dulles is at 179 percent of pre-pandemic levels; the national figure is 124 percent.

• Africa: Dulles is at 139 percent of pre-COVID levels, compared to a national value of 133 percent.

• Middle East: Dulles is at 123 percent of 2019 rates, compared to a national figure of 112 percent.

• Canada: Dulles is at 114 percent of pre-pandemic levels; the national figure is 100 percent.

“It’s exciting stuff,” said Walter Tejada, a Virginia appointee to the airports authority’s board of directors.

Asia remains an outlier, but excluding service to China, figures are encouraging: Service from Dulles to (non-China) Asian destinations now sits at 86 percent of pre-pandemic figures, albeit slightly below the national rate of 90 percent.

For China proper, however, the passenger count at Dulles is still just 9 percent of pre-COVID levels, compared to a 33-percent rate nationally, as the Chinese government continues to restrict service levels.

Asia service also is impacted by the inability of carriers to overfly Russian airspace owing to current geopolitical issues. In many cases, that means a flight that ordinarily could be operated nonstop from Dulles now is more efficiently handled by having passengers connect on the U.S. West Coast and then take an onward flight across the Pacific, said Paul Bobson, the airports authority’s vice president of airline business development.

Given challenges in routing passengers to Asia, “our recovery [in international service] is all the more remarkable,” said William Sudow, a Virginia appointee to the airports authority’s board of directors.

Helping matters was the decision by United Airlines, the dominant carrier at Dulles, to begin shifting away from low-season levels of service earlier than usual this year. While the airline typically starts adding internationals service in March, this year that move began around Valentine’s Day.

Still a current challenge: Airlines are facing delays in aircraft deliveries from both Boeing and Airbus, limiting their ability to introduce new routes as they work to keep up with growth in existing demand.

Airports Authority’s Revenue in Positive Territory: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s revenue connected to airline activities is flying high – running higher than a year before and ahead of budget, according to new data.

In figures provided in advance of the May 15 MWAA board meeting, authority staff reported that total revenue from aviation enterprises during the first four months of the year total $277.2 million. That’s up 4.1 percent from the same period in 2023 and 6.6 percent above budget. It includes operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Revenues received directly from the airlines themselves totaled $98 million, down 7.2 percent from a year before but up 2.2 percent compared to the budget. That figure includes rent, landing fees, international-arrival fees and mobile-lounge access.

Among items not directly tied to the airlines themselves:

• Parking revenue was up 9.2 percent to $55.75 million.

• Revenue related to rental cars was up 5.5 percent to $18 million.

• Revenue connected to food and beverage concessions was up 12.5 percent to $14.7 million.

• Revenue from retail and newsstand concessions was up 3.6 percent to $4.5 million.

Airports Report Lower Cost-Per-Enplanement Than Projected: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority continues to make progress in whittling down the costs it passes to airlines that use Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Full-year 2023 cost-per-enplanement totals were $15.71 at Dulles and $9.38 at National, according to figures presented May 15 to the airports authority’s board of directors.

That compares to budgeted amounts of $15.98 and $9.90, respectively. Totals for 2023 were $17.69 at Dulles and $11.15 at Reagan National.

As the name suggests, cost-per-enplanement takes the airport-related costs paid by airlines and divides them into the total passenger count. It is a relatively apples-to-apples way to compare costs borne by airlines (and, ultimately, travelers) at airports across the country.

Reagan National’s figure of $9.38 is below the pre-pandemic total of $11.49 reported in 2019, while at Dulles the rate of $15.71 is still above the 2019 level ($14.82). In 2020, the year air travel was most affected by the pandemic, cost-per-passenger figures spiked to $37.59 for Dulles and $28.66 for National.

Airport Officials Targeting Peru: Airline-development officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority say they continue to work toward obtaining nonstop service between Washington Dulles International Airport and Lima, Peru.

“It is a top focus,” said Paul Bobson, the authority’s vice president of airline business development, during questioning at the body’s board of directors meeting May 15.

The query was brought up by Walter Tejada, a Virginia appointee to the authority board and a leading advocate for increased service to Latin America.

Bobson acknowledged that, in terms of passenger totals (although not total passenger revenue), Lima is the largest city in the region not having nonstop service to Dulles.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” Tejada said of future service.

Currently, the fastest way to get between the local area and Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport is on Copa Airlines (from Dulles via Panama City, Panama); American Airlines (from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport via Miami); and Delta Air Lines (from National via Atlanta). All clock in at between 9.5 and 10 hours of travel time, including connections of approximately an hour at intermediate points.

Founded in 1535, Lima has a metropolitan area of about 10 million people, about twice the population of the D.C. region.

Airport Landing-Weight Totals Up in New Data: Runways at Northern Virginia’s two major airports take a pounding but keep on rebounding.

A total of 33.86 billion-with-a-”b” pounds of aircraft, passengers, cargo and various appendages landed on the runways at Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports in 2023, according to figures presented May 15 to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors.

That’s up 7.6 percent from a year before, said Andrew Rountree, senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer for the authority.

Reagan National saw 15.01 billion pounds’ worth of landings in 2023, up 1.2 percent from a year before. Dulles, which saw an all-time record in international travel, reported 18.84 billion pounds, up 13.4 percent, Rountree said.

If you take the poundage of 33.86 billion and divide by passenger enplanements of 25.1 million for the year, it works out to an average weight (counting people, aircraft, etc.) of 1,349 pounds per passenger carried.

Local Airports Have More Airline-Seat Availability This Spring: Travelers using the region’s three airports during the second quarter of 2024 are finding more seat availability at two, and roughly the same at the third, compared to a year before, according to new data.

Washington Dulles International Airport has 8.5 percent more aircraft seats available for the quarter than a year before, while Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airports will offer 6.2 percent more.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, seat availability throughout the April-May-June period will run about 0.5 percent above the same time frame in 2023.

Figures come from the aviation-analytics firm Cirium and were reported May 2 by the Airlines for America trade group.