The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey set new passenger records again in 2015, the agency announced Wednesday: 124.2 million travelers used its commercial airports in 2015, up from about 117.3 million in 2014.
While not all of the Port Authority’s airports experienced growth in 2015, its three major hubs — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International — each reached all-time highs for total passengers, reflective of the busiest airport system in the country, the agency said. Those three airports accounted for 122.7 million of the 124.2 million travelers, and help generate $80 billion in regional economic activity every year and support more than 570,000 jobs, according to a news release.
Port Authority airports also served a record 43.6 million international passengers in 2015, the agency said.
“Our mandate to modernize our airports under a decadelong $8 billion capital program is enhanced by yet another year of record passenger growth,” Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said in a statement.
Port Authority airports’ total passenger numbers have been record-breaking each year since 2013, when the system saw 112.5 million travelers, landmarks that reflect the growing demand for air travel to and from New York both stateside and internationally. In 2015, Kennedy saw its highest number of domestic passengers (26.8 million), its most international passengers (30 million) and highest total passengers (56.8 million). LaGuardia reached a new high for domestic passengers (26.7 million) and total passengers (28.4 million), and Newark broke its record for domestic passengers (25.7 million) and total passengers (37.5 million).
“The record-breaking 7 million passenger increase at our airports speaks to the importance of our airports as major regional economic drivers and to our city as a leading global hub,” said Joe Sitt, chairman of the Global Gateway Alliance, a travelers’ advocacy group that has long lobbied for improvements to reduce congestion and delays at the three busy hubs.
Sitt specifically cited the need to speed up the Federal Aviation Administration’s implementation of NextGen, a major overhaul of the national airspace that will replace World War II-era, radar-based air traffic control with more efficient GPS technology, adding that New York’s airports “are operating over capacity and our airways are the most congested in the nation.”
Since demand for air travel to New York doesn’t show any signs of slowing, capacity needs to be added in the form of new runways at Kennedy and Newark so they can handle surging traveler numbers, said Rich Barone, director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank based in Manhattan. Until now, airlines have handled increased demand by using bigger aircraft and packing them with as many passengers as possible, he said.
“Adding runways is a very hard thing to do,” Barone warned, though he said it will become necessary as passenger numbers creep toward 130 million per year. Year after year of record-breaking numbers “should light the fire underneath the folks who need to do this, politicians who say, ‘Look, these airports are filling up, we need to be making investments in them,’” he said. “It doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon, so we should obviously do something about it before it’s a real problem.”
While the large airports grow, the Port Authority’s two smaller commercial airports have been contracting. Not mentioned in the Port Authority news release were Atlantic City International and Stewart International, which together accounted for about 1.5 million travelers in 2015.
Complete 2015 traffic figures on those airports weren’t immediately available on the Port Authority’s website Wednesday. As of November, passenger traffic at Atlantic City was down 1.6 percent, compared year-to-date to 2014. At Stewart, passenger numbers were expected to fall by 9.6 percent in 2015 after dropping 9.1 percent as of November.
The Port Authority’s sixth airport, Teterboro, is a general aviation airport that doesn’t serve commercial airlines and was not included in the total passenger numbers, a spokesman said.