First quarter data: GNV airport on track to break passenger record 

Gainesville Regional Airport sign
Photo by Seth Johnson

Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) has surpassed its 2019 passenger numbers during the first quarter of 2024, opening the possibility of a record year.  

From January through March, the airport reported 134,988 passengers versus 129,949 in 2019. Passenger traffic reached a record of 558,246 people in 2019, and the momentum carried into 2020 before crashing down.  

The airport’s graphs show a steep drop in passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic before increasing year over year. The monthly 2023 numbers mirror 2019 but ended a little short of the year-end total, with 547,457 passengers. 

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Allan Penksa, CEO of the airport, said GNV tracks the numbers closely and gets monthly reports from the three airlines operating from the airport—American Airlines, Delta and Silver Airways. 

“We’re obviously excited. Barring any kind of economic disruption, I see numbers continuing to climb,” Penksa said in an interview. 

Penksa said the airport tries to make assumptions based on the passenger trends and then makes schedule suggestions. Ultimately, the airlines—and their teams of analysts—make all final decisions about flight frequencies, locations and plane size. 

Allan Penksa - Gainesville Regional Airport CEO
Allan Penksa

Penksa said one of the crucial numbers is the load factor—or how full each plane is. He said airports try to stay above 85% as a gauge. Once flights are well above 90% full, Penksa said GNV can suggest adding another flight to the schedule or a larger plane. 

“We don’t want to leave business on the table, and neither do they,” Penksa said. “Filling the airplane is one thing but filling it at a fare that makes a profit is another.” 

Penksa said the airport doesn’t have the break-even numbers for the airlines or other data that drive scheduling decisions.  

For the last six months, GNV flights have averaged 87.3% of their total occupancy. The daily Dallas flight has been the most packed with 91.9% of the seats filled while the multiple times weekly Ft. Lauderdale flights have the most room to fill with an average 60% occupancy. 

Penksa said the whole industry works on economies of scale. Leisure markets like Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami have more capacity, and airlines can afford lower fares.  

Business markets without high leisure travel have higher fares in general, he said. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Penksa said Gainesville definitely classified as a business market. The airport tracks the trend through parking availability, and Penksa said business markets see more cars during the week than weekends.  

After the pandemic, leisure travelers were the first to return, causing packed parking lots on the weekends. Penksa said the drives to Orlando or Jacksonville can be taxing and stressful, boosting the convenience of the local airport. 

“Those percentages between leisure and travel I think are getting more balanced,” Penksa said. “But I’d say, right now, we’re favoring business travel a little more again than we did previously.” 

The airport announced earlier in April that American Airlines had decided to add a second flight to Dallas during June and July. Penksa said he hopes the area responds to the flights to boost load factors and perhaps make the change permanent.  

The busy 2023 and start to 2024 have also reinforced the need for additional parking at the airport. Local officials broke ground on a new four-story parking garage in February, with construction lasting 10 to 12 months.  

Penksa said having covered parking close to the terminal is valued by customers and will make traveling from GNV even easier—hopefully stimulating more demand. 

“We continue to be impressed by the strength of local air travel demand since COVID-19, and our passenger numbers have continued to rebound and to soar,” Penksa said, anticipating new records in the coming months.   

GNV passenger numbers (including charter flights) 

  • 2019: 558,246 
  • 2020: 254,256 
  • 2021: 405,627 
  • 2022: 535,693 
  • 2023: 547,457 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect a change in Silver Airways’ Ft. Lauderdale flight, from daily to several times a week.

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