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Recovery at Local Airports Slowed in November

The recovery in passenger traffic at local airports slowed in November as the rebound in international passengers at Los Angeles International Airport began to moderate.

About 6.9 million passengers went through the gates in November at the four airports serving Los Angeles County: LAX, Ontario International, Hollywood Burbank and Long Beach. That was down 14% from pre-pandemic Nov. 2019, though up 12% from November of last year.

LAX had nearly 5.6 million passengers in November, down 17% from Nov. 2019. The recovery was strongest in international passenger traffic, with the November tally of 1.46 million passengers up 66% from the same month last year.

But that’s the first time in several months that the year-over-year tally of international passengers at LAX hasn’t doubled, which could be a sign that the biggest gains in international traffic at the gateway airport since the pandemic may be ending.

Nonetheless, airport officials noted that more than 15 million international travelers passed through the gates at LAX for the first 11 months of 2022.

“These are the best numbers we have seen since the pandemic began in early 2020,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive at Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that runs LAX. “While our overall recovery will take additional time to reach the record-setting numbers of 2019, we are optimistic that travel will continue to strengthen in 2023.”

Regional airports

The pace of recovery also slowed at the other three regional airports. Only Ontario managed to have its tally of more than 512,000 passengers in November exceed the pre-pandemic Nov. 2019 total – and only by about 2%.

“November continued our run of strong growth on both passenger volume and cargo movement,” said Atif Elkadi, chief executive of Ontario International Airport Authority. “While many airports continue to work toward restoring commercial air service to pre-pandemic levels, Ontario is showing month after month what full recovery looks like.”

Burbank and Long Beach airports fell short of their 2019 totals in November – Burbank just barely (down 0.95%) at 520,000 passengers and Long Beach down nearly 7% to roughly 287,000 passengers.

However, Long Beach Airport retained the title of biggest year-over-year percentage gainer in passengers, with its November tally up nearly 15% from the same month last year.

Looking ahead to December, the impact of the huge number of flight cancellations around the Christmas holiday travel season due to the massive storm that swept across the country is likely to show up in the passenger statistics.

The meltdown at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. in particular will likely have a significant impact on the tallies. That’s because Southwest is the dominant carrier at the three regional airports serving Los Angeles County: Burbank, Long Beach and Ontario.

Cargo levels continue slide

Air cargo tonnage was down again in November at all four airports serving Los Angeles County, with the overall tally of 296,000 metric tons plunging 12% from the same month last year.

But that drop was mostly due to last year’s exceptional volume as the economy was rapidly bouncing back from the impact of the pandemic and supply chain issues with the nearby ports forced some cargo shippers to switch to planes. This year, many companies ordered their products extra early to avoid last minute supply-chain foul-ups.

Of the two airports that handle 98% of the region’s air cargo – LAX and Ontario – LAX posted the biggest drop in tonnage in November, down 15% to 217,000. Ontario cargo tonnage was down 1.5% to about 75,000 tons.

However, both cargo tonnage levels were above pre-pandemic levels, with LAX up nearly 9% in November compared to Nov. 2019 and Ontario up by 10%.

At LAX, the overall higher cargo volume of the last couple of years has put more strain on the airport’s aging cargo facilities, lending urgency to LAWA’s renewed push to modernize and consolidate the facilities. The agency recently sent out a request for proposals for developers to submit ideas on how the existing facilities should be overhauled.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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