Passenger numbers for Hays Regional Airport are increasing, with the month of May seeing the largest monthly increase in recent history.
Nearly 1,100 people boarded a local commercial flight in May, marking a 41-percent increase from the same month last year.
“The numbers the FAA looks at are the number of enplanements, so that is bigger than any month we’ve had since 2011 — or even before,” said Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood. “It may be the biggest month ever.”
May typically is a strong month for air travel, as people begin summer holidays or travel to attend graduations and other family events, Wood said.
City officials receive monthly reports of the total number of passengers using the Hays airport. Every month since January has seen an increase of at least approximately 20 percent over 2016.
That’s good news for city and airport officials, who are hoping to eventually reach the goal of 10,000 boardings annually. If that goal is achieved, the city becomes eligible for a significant boost in federal grant funding, Wood said, noting increased boardings also will make the city more marketable to commercial jet providers.
United/SkyWest offers two round-trip flights to Denver on weekdays and one on weekends. An early morning flight out of Hays was added to the schedule in January, largely due to community demand.
Community organizations had discussions with business leaders and online polls last year in efforts to identify passengers’ needs, as boarding numbers had been declining. The need for an early morning flight was identified as a high priority for business travelers.
“We would like to be above that 10,000 by the end of the year,” Wood said. “We feel like that would be a spot where we could remain competitive for Skywest to keep things like the morning flight. The more we use the airport, the more they’ll give us.”
Other factors likely contributing to the boost in flyer numbers include a $69 fare sale offered earlier this year by the airline and some large employers — such as Fort Hays State University — using the airport more, Wood said.
“We’ve had a big push,” he said. “Every opportunity we have to talk to businesses, every time we get in front of people, we talk about the airport and the importance of (flying local).”
If the city hits the magic number of 10,000 passengers, it will be eligible for $1 million in funding. If boarding numbers miss the mark, only $150,000 is guaranteed. Hays Regional Airport last achieved the goal in 2012.
While the upwards trend is positive news, Wood said the community still has work to do to ensure passenger numbers are reaching desired levels.
Even in May, an average of only 35 passengers were using the airport each day. The commercial jets have a 100-passenger capacity.
“We still have quite a bit of capacity to take more people. We’re climbing more and more,” Wood said. “But we sure would like to continue to use the airport.”