Passenger traffic at Chicago Rockford International Airport increased 18% in 2022 from a year earlier and is nearing pre-pandemic levels, airport officials said.
About 242,000 people flew in or out of RFD last year, according to Zack Oakley, assistant operations manager at Chicago Rockford International Airport.
“The region definitely has a strong need for travel, and the destinations that we have outside of Rockford are working very well,” Oakley said. “Pretty much anything that comes out of Rockford has no problem making people want to fly.”
According to Oakley, RFD’s 2022 passenger traffic numbers were about 3% below pre-pandemic numbers from 2019, which included popular Apple Vacation flights to Cancun, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica.
Apple grounded these flights during the pandemic outbreak in March 2020 and the service has not returned.
The airport is currently served by Allegiant Air, which offers non-stop flights to Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Orlando, Clearwater, Punta Gorda and Sarasota, Florida.
RFD is targeting additional goals in the new year based on passenger feedback, Oakley said.
Opportunities include Denver, Dallas and Nashville as well as Austin, Texas and Asheville, North Carolina.
“These are cities that we’ve either flown to in the past, like Denver, or destinations that we’re looking at from a market standpoint for customer migration from Rockford to the Chicago market that have good appeal,” he said. “Every time we post something on Facebook, it seems like Nashville is always put on the list of suggestions. It’s a growing target for low-cost airlines.”
Airport officials are in talks with Allegiant Air, as well as other commercial airlines, about additional destinations outside of RFD, Oakley said.
“It has been shown that we have a very strong market for people who want to travel to different places than the destinations that we offer,” he said. “Anything that’s been put on the market is usually well supported by the local community, so when we talk to the airlines it’s a great story to sell. That’s one of the main reasons we want to try to add more.”
More:5 reasons Rockford is one of the fastest growing cargo airports in the country
The airport’s cargo operations grew 1% year over year in 2022, Oakley said.
According to FAA data, RFD handled 3.433 billion pounds of landweight last year, an increase of about 31 million pounds from 2021 figures.
RFD is the 14th busiest US cargo airport by landing weight.
The local airport hosts the second largest UPS hub in North America, a key base for Amazon Air and serves more than 15 international airlines and carriers.
Ken DeCoster covers business news and features. Contact him at 815-987-1391, [email protected] or @DeCosterKen.