Akron- Canton Airport saw a lot of change during 2016. While passenger numbers dropped, the decline wasn't as bad as anticipated.

GREEN  Akron-Canton Airport officials anticipated a drop in passengers during 2016. While they were correct, they can say the drop wasn't as far as expected.

More than 1.39 million people passed through the airport last year, a 9.59-percent drop from the 1.54 million passengers who used the airport during 2015.

"It's not good being down, of course. But it's not as bad as we anticipated," said Rick McQueen, the airport's president and chief executive officer.

During the coming year the airport doesn't anticipate much change in the passenger numbers, he said. McQueen is hoping passenger numbers begin rising in 2019.

Passenger use hit its high point in 2012, topping 1.83 million. The record, however, coincides with Southwest Airlines' purchase of the former AirTran Airways. At the time, AirTran was the largest carrier at Akron-Canton.

Following the merger, Southwest starting pulling back service at Akron-Canton, finally dropping to three daily flights to Atlanta. That service ends in June and also means the end of Southwest at Akron-Canton.

As Southwest — by cutting former AirTran flights — has reduced service over the past three years, other airlines have come in and filled the gaps. But so far the replacement service hasn't carried enough passengers to cover the lost AirTran service. One factor could be airlines using smaller jets for flights that have been added.

McQueen said some of the airlines are moving from 50-seat jets to slightly larger 70- and 90-seat jets in the future. It appears there are enough local travelers to fill the additional seats if planes become larger.


Akron-Canton also should see more business from Spirit Airlines, which is serving several markets in Florida and offering seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, S.C. This summer Spirit will begin flying to Las Vegas, which in the past has been a popular destination from Akron-Canton. "We're excited to get it back," McQueen said of service to Las Vegas.

But the arrival of Spirit likely was a factor in a decision by Allegiant Airlines to leave Akron-Canton and switch service to Cleveland Hopkins. Allegiant specializes in vacation travel and was offering flights a couple of days per week from Akron-Canton.

Airline consolidation has reduced the number of companies that might serve Akron-Canton, and nearly every major combination affected airlines here. While Southwest gobbled up AirTran, Delta merged with Northwest and American this past year took over U.S. Airways.

Delta maintained its service to Atlanta and Northwest's service to Detroit.

American now is the largest carrier at Akron-Canton, continuing U.S. Airways service to Philadelphia, Charlotte and Washington. It also serves Chicago and New York, and has added flights to both locations.

McQueen hopes that business remains stable during the coming year. Airport officials have "planted some seeds" with airlines in an attempt to coax more service, he said. In the mean time, Akron-Canton remains "virtually one stop to the world," he said.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or edd.pritchard@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @epritchardREP