April 26, 2019
Jacksonville International Airport was the fastest growing airport in North America last year. It's still growing, now to unmanageable levels.
The airport had its busiest month ever last month, and it has seen an average monthly increase of 91,137 passengers over the last 12 months. Every month has shown a year-over-year passenger increase for the last year and a half.
"[Most] airports' annual growth rate is 3 percent," Mark VanLoh, CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, told the Jax Chamber Transportation & Logistics Council Thursday. "Try to manage these numbers. You just can't."
Airlines are sending larger planes to help meet the growing demand. March passengers were offered 99 more flights and more than 1,800 more seats than in the same month a year ago. The airport, too, is adding its own capacity.
JAA is in the final stages of picking a designer for Concourse B, which will add six new gates to the airport when construction is completed by the end of 2022. VanLoh said Thursday the project would cost $200 million and would have an option to add six more gates if demand necessitated them. He expects to pick a designer by the end of May.
VanLoh said Concourse B is already needed.
"We may have missed out on some flights because we didn't have the capacity in place," he said.
That said, JAA is working hard to land new routes. VanLoh shared his pitch deck from a presentation he made to Southwest Airlines about adding service to Phoenix, a hub for a slew of West Coast routes, which showed Jacksonville as Phoenix's largest market without a nonstop route. Alaska Airlines, based in Seattle, is also a target to get Jacksonville travelers to the West Coast, VanLoh said. JAA is also pushing routes to San Francisco, San Diego and more.
"We want to fly to the West Coast, and we don't want to have to stop in Atlanta," said VanLoh.
Despite the explosive growth at JIA, VanLoh was most excited about Cecil Airport.
JAA recently offered up 150 acres near the Cecil runway, and VanLoh was surprised to see 13 companies confirm interest, including large corporations like Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Boeing (NYSE: BA).
VanLoh also offered an update on cosmetic projects at JIA. Bathrooms are getting updated (notably to remove the oft-vilified slanted sink counters), and escalators and moving walkways from the parking deck will be replaced. JAA is also working to pave economy lot three to add parking capacity; floors of the hourly parking garage will be taken offline in phases as updates are made over the next two years.