El Paso airport passenger traffic dramatically falls in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic

Written by MLHA Team

April 8, 2021

Editor’s note: The amount of federal stimulus money received by the El Paso airport and how much was used in the last two fiscal years were corrected from an earlier version of this story.

El Paso International Airport’s airline passenger traffic declined almost 58% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new data show.

The airport saw 1.49 million airline passengers in 2020, just over 2 million fewer passengers than in 2019, when the passenger count was 3.52 million, according to airport data released Friday.

The national outlook is that airline passenger traffic isn’t expected to get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, said Sam Rodriguez, the city’s aviation director.

“We expect improvement this year as (COVID-19) vaccines are applied, but it will take some time to fully recover,” Rodriguez said.

The plunge in traffic decreased the airport’s revenues $7.35 million in 2020 to $41.4 million, city data show. That blow was softened with $15.4 million in federal stimulus money. The airport used $7.1 million of that money in fiscal year 2020, which ended Aug. 31, and it plans to use $8.3 million in the current fiscal year, Rodriguez said.

The airport also is set to get another $5 million in federal stimulus money in about two months, which will help the airport make up some of the expected, continued revenue shortfalls in the next two fiscal years, he said. Also, another stimulus bill pending in the U.S. Congress is expected to have additional funds for airports, he added.

The passenger decrease has substantially reduced the airport’s parking revenues, as well as money it gets from car rental agencies, hotels with airport land leases, and operators of airport gift shops and restaurants, which all saw substantial declines in sales, Rodriguez said. 

Eight of the airport’s food outlets and gift shops remain closed due to the decrease in traffic. Six remain open.

More: El Paso median resale home price hits record $177,800 in 2020’s hot real estate market

The number of daily airline departures dropped by more than half. In December, the airport had 22 daily departures on five airlines, compared to 54 departures in December 2019. Those numbers do not include two airlines with weekly flights in 2020.

Southwest Airlines continued to dominate the El Paso airline market, with 42% of El Paso airport passengers using that airline in December. American Airlines had 32.2% of the El Paso market, United had 14.5% and Delta had 6.2%.

Southwest is expected to add two to three daily flights to its El Paso schedule in March, a Saturday-only service to Austin and to San Antonio, Rodriguez said. It stopped its direct flights to Austin in 2020.

More: Boutique Air to offer daily flights from El Paso to Carlsbad and Albuquerque

The airport’s 2020 airline passenger traffic started strong in January and February, exceeding 2019’s numbers. But in March, as COVID-19-related travel restrictions took hold, the numbers began dropping. The worst month was April, when only 24,375 passengers went through the airport.

It wasn’t until the summer travel season that passenger traffic began to grow again, but it was still well below 2019 numbers. By December, the traffic grew to 133,235 passengers — still less than half the 322,016 passengers that used the airport in December 2019.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; vkolenc@elpasotimes.com@vickolenc on Twitter.

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