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A million fewer people will fly out of Fort Lauderdale airport next summer. Here's why

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's north runway is closing for five months in 2019 for massive repairs. The airport expects that a million fewer passengers will fly through FLL during that time.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's north runway is closing for five months in 2019 for massive repairs. The airport expects that a million fewer passengers will fly through FLL during that time. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The country's fastest growing airport is taking five next year — five months, that is, to renovate its aging runway.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's north runway will close from June to October 2019 for maintenance repairs. That closure will likely mean a million fewer passengers will fly through FLL during those months, according to the airport's fiscal year 2019 budget presentation.

The airport has not yet finalized agreements with airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration control tower to quantify the impact. But airport officials expect a significant reduction in flights to the airport.

Airport spokesman Greg Meyer said most of the routes with multiple daily runs to domestic destinations will likely be scaled back. The number of international flights — about 23 percent of the airport's total service — are expected to remain stable.

"It's not a reduction in destinations, but [in] multiple flights to destinations," Meyer said. Fliers could see reductions in the number of flights to New York, for instance, or larger planes to certain destinations to offset the flight reductions, depending on what the airlines decide.

Airlines typically send the airport their flying schedules six to eight months ahead of time, Meyer said, but the airport is requesting that information earlier.

"We are planning as far ahead as we can," Meyer said.

The change may mean some travel delays next summer — though the airport isn't expecting on-the-spot cancellations. Schedules should be ironed out ahead of the runway closure.

One positive, Meyer said: The renovations will take place during the slower summer travel season and should not disrupt the busy winter months. Though hurricane season and heavy rainfall in the summer may disrupt construction, Meyer said.

The updates are necessary to bring the airport up to current standards, he said. Parts of the north runway date back to 1943, when Fort Lauderdale airport was a naval air station during World War II. The runway itself hasn't gone through a major overhaul since 2004.

"We have not done a major rehab on the runway in some time and it's starting to show its age and wear and tear," Meyer said.

The airport is pouring $74 million into replacing the 75-foot center portion of the north runway — the area that takes the brunt of the impact from plane landings — with concrete. The sides of the runway, about 38 feet on either side, will be repaved with asphalt. The runway's electrical and signage systems will be upgraded, and the safety areas at the end of the runway will be replaced.

In all, the airport hopes the renovation will help keep the runway serviceable for another 30 years.

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The growth at FLL is thanks in part to its partnerships with low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways. Together, the three fast-growing carriers account for two-thirds of all passenger traffic out of FLL. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

In the meantime, flights will be diverted to FLL's south runway, already used by many international carriers. That runway, inaugurated in 2014, has facilitated the airport's rapid growth.

Last week, aviation statistic and analysis firm OAG named FLL the fastest-growing airport in North America. The firm analyzed the number of available seats out of the airport in May 2017 compared to April 2018. FLL had 11 percent growth, beating out Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey with 8 percent, and Orlando International Airport with 7 percent growth.

The growth at FLL is thanks in part to its partnerships with low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways. Together, the three fast-growing carriers account for two-thirds of all passenger traffic out of FLL. Just this month, Spirit announced it would be adding more flights to North Carolina from Fort Lauderdale. The airport is also in the midst of a massive renovation that will touch each terminal by 2020.

The busiest route is FLL-Atlanta, OAG found, with as many as 50 daily flights in April.

But the airport, like No. 18 Miami International Airport, may not have much more room to grow in the foreseeable future.

“Capacity constraints at FLL suggest growth like this may not continue,” the report found.

Southwest Airline's new five-gate, international terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport opened Thursday. The addition is part of a larger construction plan for the airport that will bring renovations to each terminal. The new

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH
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