MONTEREY — The Monterey Regional Airport is continuing to gain altitude in its recovery from the lowest points of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with the number of people traveling through its terminals exceeding pre-pandemic levels, infrastructure projects ongoing and carrier service expanding.
“We’re pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Monterey Regional Airport Executive Director Mike La Pier. “In October we had about 22,000 enplanements, an 80% load factor, and in 2019 we were just under 20,000 enplanements.”
Enplanements and load factor pertain to the number of passengers and the filling of available seats respectively.
But airlines are about to face an onslaught of travelers with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays seeing people eager to travel for in-person celebrations more than a year-and-a-half into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year with many being vaccinated.
Airlines continue to struggle with the effects of staffing shortages due to the health crisis that saw many within the industry laid off and those carriers in varying degrees of recovery. Within the past couple of months, there have been jolts to the travel system as airlines delayed or canceled thousands of flights due in part to staffing shortages and weather.
At the Monterey Regional Airport, La Pier reports that it is back to full strength in employment though some vendors and tenants are having trouble filling positions.
“We’re at capacity and have two new positions posted that have yet to be filled but we’re currently recruiting,” said La Pier.
The Monterey airport’s total operating budget for the fiscal year 2022 is $8,499,921 compared to its fiscal year 2021 budget, which was $5,991,318.
In early November, the United States lifted some travel restrictions on most of the world since the pandemic began opening the gates to non-U.S. citizens traveling from about 30 countries including China, India and most of Europe while also restricting border entry from Mexico and Canada.
La Pier said that since international air travel has been reinstated it will impact Monterey airport travel, but it is not tracked as the regional airport is not an international airport such as those in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, San Diego, Las Vegas and Portland which all have service from Monterey.
“We know there is international travel, we don’t know the level yet,” said La Pier.
At Monterey Regional Airport, Alaska Airlines has daily flights to San Diego and Seattle. Both will have a second daily flight added — San Diego in April and Seattle in June. Allegiant Air flies to Las Vegas and Portland, on particular days of the week, American Airlines has twice-daily service to Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth, and United Airlines treks to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver daily.
Hop-on jet service JSX flies out of the Monterey airport from the Monterey Jet Center with routes to Burbank and Orange County.
La Pier reports that JSX is doing well and happy with its strong numbers, which have not waned during the offseason.
Newcomer Avelo Air announced plans in July to start service between the Los Angeles basin and Monterey in September but the delta variant surge scrapped those plans. Avelo postponed its service to Monterey and is now focused on building its business on the East Coast but is reportedly still interested in joining the Monterey market for a yet-to-be-announced date.
The Monterey Regional Airport is finishing a $12 million general aviation ramp area project this month, which was financed through a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and has been in the works the last couple of years.
Now that President Joe Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, airport leadership is anxiously watching what infrastructure money becomes available for airport and terminal renovations, said La Pier.
At this point, the Monterey airport is pleased with the progress made in its recovery though it awaits business travel to return.
“There’s room to grow,” said La Pier. “We think there are some solid opportunities for the airport going forward.”
Increasing passenger traffic and capacity, adding more flights, accommodating larger aircraft, and welcoming new carriers are all on the airport’s to-do list over the course of the next year.
With air travel roaring back and more people than before the pandemic coming through Monterey’s airport, La Pier said this holiday season looks strong for the regional airport and the industry as a whole.
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