MANCHESTER, N.H. – This Christmas, all Manchester-Boston Regional Airport Director Ted Kitchens wants is five of your trips.
According to Kitchens, if New Hampshire residents don’t use Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (better known by its ICAO Code, MHT) for five out of ten of their departing flights instead of other alternatives like Logan International Airport in Boston, airline executives may no longer consider New Hampshire as a viable market on its own for air travel.
As of November 2022, Kitchens says that number currently stands at 2 out of 10 New Hampshire flyers, an improvement from the 1.7 he saw at the beginning of his tenure. However, he says MHT’s passenger leakage to Logan and other nearby airports is something not being seen at other airports across New England, such as T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, (ICAO Code: PVD)
“The fine citizens of Providence give half of their travel to PVD and half to Logan,” said Kitchens. “Why can’t we do the same?”
MHT also faces obstacles related to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that are endemic to the entire airline industry. The pool of available pilots and other specialized staff such as baggage handlers remains low, with new civil aviation pilots remaining in short supply and newer military pilots being transferred into flying drones rather than traditional aircraft.
Here, Kitchens believes that removing the mandatory retirement age for pilots who pass health exams and student loan assistance for pilots would be helpful. However, Kitchens believes the most significant thing that can be done is reducing the total number of training hours to become a pilot from the current standard of 1,500 hours.
He adds that student loan support and reduced training hours could increase opportunities in aviation for many who cannot afford the costs related to training as well as increase diversity.
“(Becoming a pilot is) well out of the reach of underrepresented populations, which as we’re hearing with the general workforce, we need to engage,” he said. “We need to cast as wide of a net as we can so we can get everybody interested.”
Kitchens says that MHT is also facing uncertainty related to inflation as rising costs of daily items provide passengers with difficult choices when it comes to the affordability of air travel.
One of the primary airlines using MHT, Spirit Airlines, has not been immune to some of these factors, as they have struggled with finding proper staffing levels and access to limited airspace.
Spirit currently has year-round flights from MHT to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale and seasonal flights to Tampa, Fort Myers and Myrtle Beach.
Despite concerns for the future, MHT continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 1.1 million passengers have used MHT in 2022 through the end of November, a year-over-year increase of 15.8 percent from 2021. New Amazon cargo facilities at MHT and debt restructuring in 2020 have also helped the airport’s overall financial health.
Although Kitchens says that passenger loads specifically for Spirit have waned in recent months, he believes that the holiday season will help Spirit and other carriers at MHT and is hopeful that broader trends can also support continuing momentum.
“Overall, we’re still trending very positive on our budget,” said Kitchens. “Hopefully inflation continues to cool off and 2023 turns out to be a stronger year for us, but we’re continually faced with headwinds as an industry.”