DAYTONA BEACH — Passenger traffic at Daytona Beach International Airport rose in March to the highest level in nearly a decade.
The Volusia County-run airport counted 72,957 passengers departing and/or arriving via its gates, up 4.2 percent from the 70,023 counted the same month last year.
It's the most in a single month since April 2008, according to statistics provided by the county.
It also marks the third year in a row the number of airline passengers counted at the airport topped 70,000 in March, typically the high mark of the year at DBIA because of traffic generated by Bike Week and spring break.
Prior to March 2016, the last time passenger traffic topped 70,000 was in April 2008, when 78,752 were counted, according to Jay Cassens, the airport's director of business development. The airport recorded 90,265 passengers in March 2008, which remains the highest for the airport since at least the mid-1990s.
"We had six airlines (offering daily flights here) back then," said Cassens of the early part of 2008 when the effects of the Great Recession had yet to be fully felt locally.
By June of that year, the number of airlines offering daily flights to and from Daytona Beach had declined to just two. "The bottom fell out," Cassens said of the airport's passenger traffic numbers for the year as a whole in 2008, which fell to 594,871, down from 705,475 in 2007.
Daytona Beach International Airport did not see the number of airlines offering daily service increase again until January 2016 when JetBlue Airways launched its daily nonstop service to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
The other two airlines currently offering daily service locally are Delta Air Lines, which offers flights to and from its hub airport in Atlanta, Georgia, and American Airlines, which offers flights to and from its hub airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Regarding the uptick in passenger traffic in March, Cassens attributed it to a combination of the airlines adding daily flights and using larger planes with more available seats.
"The airlines clearly responded to a couple of positive years in 2016 and 2017 (for March)," he said.
Also encouraging, Cassens said, was the percentage of filled available seats, which rose in March to 91 percent overall for Delta, American and JetBlue. That's the highest overall percentage of seats filled in a single month so far this year, he said.
The percentage of seats filled in February was 88 percent, while the percentage for March of last year was 90 percent, Cassens said.
"That's going to bode well going forward," Cassens said. "If they didn't fill the seats they would have pulled back (by offering fewer flights and by using smaller planes). This is very, very positive."
The airport's steady increase in passenger traffic in recent years is a key to making the case to airlines to consider offering more flights, as well as potentially new routes, here, said Cassens.
Daytona Beach International Airport last year saw its passenger traffic numbers rise to 720,825, the most in a single year since 1997.
"It's wonderful to see our local market respond to increases in flight activity and capacity," airport director Rick Karl stated in a news release.