Air traffic

Trenton-Mercer air traffic soars as COVID wanes and mask mandates end

Trenton-Mercer Airport is on track for its busiest year ever, with more than 600,000 people flying to and from Ewing Airfield in the first three months of 2022 only, according to FAA records.

The number of travelers using Trenton-Mercer between January and March exceeded total traffic from the previous year, government records show. FAA records currently only include the first three months of 2022 and show travelers are returning to most airports nationwide.

Yet none show the reported growth at Trenton-Mercer.

Before the pandemic, airport owned by Mercer County on average about 800,000 travelers per year. If it continues to handle an average of 200,000 passengers per month, Trenton-Mercer would far exceed all previous air travel records.

“We expected to see increased demand for air travel coming out of the pandemic, and we believe Trenton-Mercer Airport is recovering faster than many airports across the country,” said Melinda Montgomery, director of the ‘airport. “Planes are full and people are happy to travel, vacation and visit loved ones again,” she added. “We anticipate a busy summer travel season.

Industry analysts have predicted a bright future for small regional airports.

Some travelers just want to skip the trip to Philadelphia, Newark or JFK international airports, Daniel Bubb said, former commercial airline pilot and expert in commercial aviation and airport history. Other travelers want to avoid the crowds, he said.

“The traveling public is very dissatisfied with the quality of major airports,” Bubb said. “They’re dirty and crowded. You stress about parking. So it’s a perfect opportunity for airports like Trenton-Mercer to grow.”

Despite their size, smaller regional airports are grappling with the same issues of canceled and delayed flights, and staff shortages that have plagued their larger counterparts.

In 2021, one in four flights departing from Trenton-Mercer was delayed. That was about the same number as at Newark International Airport, according to data provided by the US Department of Transportation.

When flights were delayed, the average traveler waited 73 minutes to board at Trenton-Mercer and 70 minutes at Newark, according to DOT records.

The government reported little change in canceled flights at Trenton-Mercer (2.2%), Newark (2.9%) and Philadelphia (1.4%). At Lehigh Valley International, only 1.3% of flights were canceled last year according to the US Department of Transportation.

For subscribers:Trenton-Mercer Airport is expanding. How big could it get with flights over Bucks County?

After: Trenton-Mercer airport expansion challenged by Lower Makefield, Yardley and others

Located four miles north of Allentown, Lehigh Valley Regional International Airport is also seeing a bonanza of travelers. Between January and March, Lehigh Valley reported 790,000 air travelers, more than at any time the previous year.

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization reported a 65% increase in air travel from January to April 2022, with 30% more planes departing from airports around the world.

The International Air Transport Association said in March that it expects the total number of travelers to top 4 billion in 2024, eclipsing all pre-pandemic air travel.

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However, Trenton-Mercer’s growth has not been without its critics.

Members of the nonprofit Trenton Threatened Skies say increased air traffic is adding to air and noise pollution for residents of Mercer and neighboring Bucks County. One of Trenton-Mercer’s two runways sends planes over the Delaware River and Lower Makefield, where some residents complain of noise.

Earlier this year, the FAA approved plans for a large passenger terminal and construction of a parking garage at Trenton-Mercer.

On May 19, a petition was filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit challenging this plan. The petition was submitted by officials of lower makefield, Yardley, Threatening Skies of Trentona Mercer County Homeowners Association, and 28 residents living near the airport.

Named as defendants in the case are the FAAthe US Department of Transportationand Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The lawyer representing Lower Makefield and Yardley admitted that his legal action could not stop the construction of the largest airport.

Mercer County plans to begin work on its new airport terminal and parking lot by mid-2023 and hopes to open the new terminal by 2025.