PORTLAND, Maine — Despite a spate of winter-related flight cancellations in January and February, an increase of passengers flying from the Portland International Jetport in March kept first-quarter traffic on par with recent years.

Data released Wednesday showed the number of passengers flying from the Portland airport rose about 6.7 percent in March to 64,414, up from 60,393 in 2013. Traffic dropped 2 percent for January and February combined, but the strong March numbers pulled the traffic total just above the first quarter of last year.

With the cold weather abating, airport marketing manager Greg Hughes said he expects that the year ahead will continue to show growth in traffic. But the difficulties of the past winter still haunt him.

“I almost cried today when I saw the snow,” Hughes said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We just had so many canceled flights in January and February … it was impossible with the amount of missing flights to have done better than last year.”

Hughes attributed part of the March increase to expanded flight options such as Southwest’s addition of a direct Portland-to-Orlando trip, which started March 8.

Hughes said his high hopes for continued traffic growth are supported in part by the bets of other entities on increased tourism, including hoteliers who are adding hundreds of rooms to the Portland market this year. He expects the Nova Star ferry, which will arrive in Portland on Thursday and set off on its maiden voyage May 15, also will generate more traffic through the airport. The new ferry has received international media coverage, including one in the travel section of the Los Angeles Times one week ago.

Apart from tourist traffic, Hughes said he expects Portland will be able to lure away some corporate traffic otherwise headed to Boston in the wake of US Airways’ merger with American Airlines in March. Starting March 31, US Airways joined the international oneworld alliance started by American, which provides international travelers with certain benefits and access to a range of international airlines.

“Where that helps us is with the General Dynamics and (Bath Iron Works) and Idexx people — those who travel all over the world,” Hughes said.

Portland has connections to two other major international alliances through United Airlines, which is part of the Star Alliance, and Delta, which is part of the Skyteam alliance. But before March, Hughes said Boston’s Logan International Airport held the oneworld alliance advantage over Portland for corporate customers.

“Now we’re equal with them and there’s no reason to go there to get [customer] rewards from the alliance,” Hughes said.

The merger of US Airways Group Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. made the largest airline by traffic, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.