BELLINGHAM - The rate of growth is starting to slow down, but Bellingham International Airport is still in a period of expansion.
A total of 570,577 people used the airport to fly to other destinations in 2012, an 11.5 percent increase compared to 2011, according to data collected by the Port of Bellingham from the airlines.
Port of Bellingham Aviation Director Dan Zenk is expecting another 10 to 15 percent increase in 2013 and in the upcoming few years. That's not the 30 percent jump seen between 2010 and 2011, but it's still significant.
The current flights are on average 90 percent full, so Zenk expects the growth in the coming years to come from additional flights and possibly new destinations.
"The airlines are looking at what low-cost airlines are doing and modeling that (strategy)," said Zenk, referring to the trend of using smaller airports to cut costs.
Zenk didn't have any new announcements about new destinations or additional flights through Bellingham, but he believes more will be added in 2013. In terms of new destinations, Zenk said going east to places like Salt Lake City and Chicago are drawing interest.
One of the challenges is that it can take 18 months for an airline to add a new destination, he said. Also, in the current economic climate of small margins, the airlines often don't have additional planes available to expand.
To accommodate growth, the airport continues to work on a variety of construction projects. It is in the first phase of a project that will add a new baggage carousel as well as make improvements to the baggage delivery system. That portion of the project is currently on time and expected to be completed sometime in March, he said.
The next phase would include adding more security checkpoint lanes and another security gate. The Halibut Henry's café will get a new, permanent space in the secured area, and the Scotty Brown's restaurant will add 500 square feet to put in more seating. This phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, Zenk said.
Airplane noise also may be addressed at least in part in 2013. Zenk said Allegiant Airlines will begin phasing out its older MD-80 planes and begin using the quieter Airbus A319 sometime this spring. The switchover will be gradual.
The one other development is the possible construction of a hotel near the airport. Zenk said the port has gone through the bid proposal process and hopes to have an award announcement this spring, with construction possibly beginning this summer.
FRONTIER TO OFFER SEASONAL FLIGHTS TO DENVER
Frontier Airlines, which offered direct daily flights between Bellingham and Denver last year, plans to return in 2013 with flights beginning Friday, May 17.
Port of Bellingham Aviation Director Dan Zenk said the plan is to have the flights into September, just like last year. He noted the Frontier flights last year were more than 90 percent full.
"I hope it (Frontier's success) has grabbed the attention of other airlines," Zenk said. "There is a demand for flights going east from Bellingham."