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Air travel has tanked nationwide during the pandemic, but local officials say Albuquerque’s airport has had bigger drops than most.
About 3.6 million fewer passengers went through the Albuquerque International Sunport in 2020 than in 2019, according to city data. That marks a 66% falloff.
Sunport officials say U.S. Transportation Security Administration checkpoint data routinely show that Albuquerque’s pandemic declines are higher than the national average.
Thursday, for example, 64% fewer people went through TSA checkpoints around the U.S. than the same date late year.
But the Sunport – New Mexico’s largest airport – was down 74%, according to spokesperson Stephanie Kitts. She said it is a common disparity.
“What we’re seeing pretty consistently, no matter which day of the week you choose, whatever the nationwide decline is year over year, we’re seeing about 10% more at ABQ versus the nationwide average,” Kitts said.
In August, an analysis of TSA data by the trade group Airlines for America found that New Mexico had one of the country’s 10 most pronounced air passenger declines.
Albuquerque Aviation Director Nyika Allen attributed the Sunport’s steeper-than-average losses in part to New Mexico’s COVID-19-related restrictions. In an effort to curb the virus’ spread, the state has imposed some of the country’s strictest public health measures. And, until this week, those included requiring nearly all out-of-state travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
States including Texas and Florida have not had the kind of air traveler declines as states such as New Mexico and California that have imposed more restrictions, Allen said.
“People here were very committed to staying home, which was very important, and we’re happy that happened,” Allen said during a media briefing with Mayor Tim Keller Thursday. “But it was detrimental to the airport.”
Allen also said markets known more as leisure destinations are faring better. Business travel, she said, is essentially “nonexistent” right now.
Kitts said as airlines – which dramatically reduced flights during the pandemic – decide how to allocate resources to meet leisure demand, Albuquerque is likely not top of mind.
The Sunport, in fact, has fewer than half as many flights scheduled this month as it did last February.
“When airlines are looking at leisure, they’re thinking things like beaches and states that are widely open and that sort of thing,” Kitts said.