TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The number of people boarding a plane at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport is about half of what is was just five years ago. That's according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The departure of United Airlines in 2016 and a four year runway rehabilitation project may be to blame.
Now, that $48 million project on the longest runway at Tyler Pounds is nearing completion.
When the project was announced in 2014, the airport had just experienced a 14.9 percent increase in passenger boardings, nearly 87,000 recorded. Then, United Airlines pulled out in the spring of 2016 and that number fell l to nearly 52,00 and in 2017, it plummeted to fewer than 50,000.
"Prior to the runway being closed when United was here we had good load factors and enplanement numbers were very high," says Davis Dickson, airport manager. "That's one thing we hope to regain."
The reduced air traffic can be measured by the gallons. Dennis Mack of Jet Center of Tyler says fuel sales have declined since construction began.
"Right now we're running anywhere from two-thirds to at best three-fourths of what we sold in fuel prior to the runway project," says Mack.
Due to an aircraft's design, it can only lift into the air a certain amount of weight depending on the certain length of available runway. With the longest runway at the airport closed, airplanes have to carry fewer people and less fuel.
Dickson says due to the open runway's short configuration, the airline needs to be careful how many seats they sell due to weight restrictions.Restrictions they hope will be lifted when the project comes to an end, nearly $4.4 million of which came from the city's half cent sales tax fund.
When airport construction is completed this fall, runway 422 will stretch 8,330 feet, or about 28 football fields.
"If we weren't so close to the DFW airports, Tyler would be considered a major area for an airport," says Tyler Mayor Martin Heines. "It is our responsibility to look 20-50 years out and make sure we are doing the proper planning today for the long term."
For now, residents have voiced concern about the cost of a ticket versus the cost of driving to Dallas. The city says attracting another airline would create competition which could drop ticket prices.
City officials say they will be reaching out to airlines in the next few months and are asking for letters from residents and business owners.Those letters will be used to demonstrate the demand for another airline.
If you believe another airline is needed at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, you can find examples of the letters here.