Spirit Airlines coming to Manchester airport this fall, serving Florida cities

  • Manchester-Boston Regional Airport—Courtesy

  • A Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, on Jan. 19, 2021. Wilfredo Lee / AP

Monitor staff
Published: 6/16/2021 2:26:06 PM

After years of effort, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has finally lured a new budget airline, Florida-based Spirit Airways, and officials hope it marks the start of the airport’s rebirth after a decade of decline.

In particular, city and state officials hope Spirit’s arrival will echo the arrival of Southwest Airlines in 1998, which triggered a period in which Manchester-Boston was the fastest growing airport in the country.

Florida-based Spirit, which has been flying to Boston since 2006, announced Wednesday that on Oct. 7 it will begin non-stop service to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, and in November will connect to Ft. Meyers and Tampa.

“What people want today are convenient non-stop flights,” said Matt Klein, executive vice-president of Spirit, during a press conference at the airport to announce the change. The airline is known for its low fares, made possible in part by charging for bags, seat assignments and even simple refreshments.

Spirit is the first airline to come to the airport since 2004. As a sign of the decision’s importance, the press conference attracted Gov. Chris Sununu, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, and representatives from federal offices as well as a host of business and local representatives.

Manchester airport has been trying for years to lure Spirit or JetBlue up to New Hampshire, needing a low-cost option to keep passengers from making the trek south to Logan Airport.

Its efforts have been stymied by industry trends, particularly airline mergers. These mergers freed up terminal space at larger airports like Logan and lowered the cost of setting up shop there, attracting low-cost airlines that had previously shunned big airports to cut expenses. The 2004 decision by then-upstart JetBlue to enter the New England market at Logan marked the end of good times for Manchester.

Manchester-Boston peaked in 2005, when almost 4.5 million passengers passed through the terminal and seven airlines served the city. Since then, the passenger count has declined each year, hitting 1.7 million in 2019 with just four airlines in the airport – Delta Airlines has since departed – and only half of its 15 gates are in use. By contrast, Boston’s Logan Airport boomed during those same years: in 2004 Logan carried about six times as many passengers as Manchester but in 2018 it carried 21 times as many passengers as Manchester.

COVID-19 was a further blow to all airports. Manchester’s passenger count in 2020 was lower than it has been since before the current terminal was opened in 1994, back when envelopes were left under the windshield wipers of parked vehicles with a request that drivers mail in the per-diem cost of parking in and around the airport.

The airport’s cargo business, by contrast, has been doing well, helped by the establishment of logistics business in southern New Hampshire and, more recently, by the pandemic’s boost to online business. More than 211 million pounds of cargo went through the airport last year, the most on record.

But passenger counts are the key to the airport’s financial success, from the airline income that they produce to the parking income and the income from stores and restaurants that set up there.

In his talks Wednesday, airport director Ted Kitchens cited the 2020 restructuring of three bonds issued for major construction of airport buildings for lowering interest costs and letting it reduce the charge for airlines to connect to the terminal by about half.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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