ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Passenger traffic at Lambert International Airport continues to slowly increase, according to numbers released Tuesday by airport officials. But is a small uptick in passengers enough?
Lambert became TWA’s primary hub 30 years ago, which helped Lambert grow into a vibrant, bustling airport. Things changed when American Airlines bought TWA in 2001.
Since then, expensive projects and fewer flights have plagued the airport, but as these new statistics show, Lambert is coming back with a new post-hub identity.
Lambert Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge says, “We’re just a different airport today. We’re served with 11 carriers, flying to 62 destinations with 250 departures a day. Now that’s not what it used to be.”
Right now, Lambert is operating under 50% capacity, meaning traffic could double and the airport still wouldn’t be overcrowded.
Hamm-Niebruegge hopes to increase traffic in new ways, by communicating with local businesses about their travel needs, welcoming more airlines, and pushing St. Louis as a connecting city.
She says, “You try to market those points that say, we can get your passengers through easily. We’re not a congested place, that’s a fuel savings. We’re a friendly town to do business in.”
And things are slowly improving. Since 2010, passenger traffic has increased roughly 1 to 2 percent each year. Lambert’s director attributes that uptick to the improving economy and increased offerings at the airport.
Still, the 12.7 million people who traveled through Lambert in 2012 pales in comparison to the 30.6 million that Lambert had at its peak in 2000.
So what can St. Louis do to help Lambert become busier? Washington University Business School Professor Glenn MacDonald says flights will come when businesses do.
He explains, “When economic activity picks up here, more people want to come here, more people want to do business outside St. Louis, believe me, the airlines will provide airplanes. They’ll be lots of commuter planes at first, then bigger planes as the need justifies it.”
As for the controversial W-1W expansion, Hamm-Niebruegge admits the runway is expensive to maintain, but hopes to use its potential as a marketing tool.
She says, “We want to see more flights, we want to see more passengers traveling. And if we can put those two goals together, hopefully at the end it’ll be what we all are looking for.”