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Sioux Falls Regional Airport reports record year, previews 2023

By March 2022, Sioux Falls Regional Airport executive director Dan Letellier began to get a sense for how the year could shape up.

The airport had its best month ever — an all-time record for any month — driven in part by extra seats on leisure budget carrier Allegiant Air.

Still, though, there were headwinds.

“You get a lot of doom and gloom about the economy and a lot of airlines reducing schedules because of the pilot supply issue,” he said. “Airfares were going sky high, so we had the potential of doing really well, but there’s lot of bumps in the road ahead.”

The momentum was enough to overcome them.

The airport logged nine monthly records in a row, adding up to its strongest travel year ever.

For 2022, the airport reported 611,933 boardings, up from 506,211 the previous year and 582,500 in pre-pandemic 2019.

“People were determined to travel,” Letellier said. “There was a lot of pent-up demand, so people were going to take that summer vacation. They were going to take that trip even if it cost more money.”

December also would have been a record month but for weather-related cancellations and the airport being forced to close right around Christmas.

“That’s the last thing we want to do,” Letellier said. “We want to make sure the runway is open, and in most cases we can have the runway open, but you shouldn’t be traveling to and from the airport if interstates are closed and no travel is advised. So that’s a factor. We don’t want planes full of people going in who have no place to go.”

Based on parking alone, 2023 also is off to a good start, he said.

“Our economy lot has over 1,000 cars in it already, and we haven’t really got to the peak time in mid- to late February and March, so it’s going to be a good couple months,” Letellier said. “Overall, we’re still a little bit off last year’s seats; I think 10 to 12 percent.”

Allegiant has scaled back some service to Phoenix and Las Vegas, and it dropped a California flight to Orange County for spring, “but there’s still a lot of seats,” he said.

American Airlines is increasing capacity with a larger aircraft to Dallas, Delta has reduced some seats, and “United is up quite a bit,” he continued. “There’s mainline service to Chicago, and they have quite a few seats to Denver this time of year.”

Passengers will notice changes to parking options as spring approaches and the airport moves ahead with its new parking ramp and skyway connection. It will eliminate short-term parking, driving more travelers to the economy lot where there will be a steady shuttle. The main entrance to the terminal will close as well, limiting restroom options.

Over time, air travel in Sioux Falls has grown significantly. In 2009, there were about 332,000 boardings versus nearly 612,000 in 2022.

But limited pilot supply is hindering efforts to add service, Letellier said.

“It is difficult to convince an airline to add a new route. Even though numbers may support service to Washington, D.C., and they would agree, that ideally would be served with a 76-seat jet, and they can’t staff the schedule they have now in existing cities, so it’s a tough ask.”

The airport is continue to work through its master planning process, including future terminal and baggage claim long-term needs. The next step toward planning for more gates is to compile financing options.

“Unfortunately, design and construction costs have gone through the roof,” Letellier said. “Probably 10 times what they were a year ago. … It’s going to take some time to develop a funding plan.”

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