Large and Small Airports Across U.S. Post Record Breaking Numbers in 2023

Significant Increases as well as record-breaking numbers in passengers for 2023 have been recorded at airports of all sizes across the country.

For the first time in history at Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) in North Carolina, more than 2 million passengers utilized the airport in 2023, showcasing double-digit growth. An impressive 2,246,411 passengers traveled to or from AVL, a 22.2% increase over 2022 figures, catapulting the airport’s annual passenger count beyond the historic 2 million mark for the first time ever.

Lew Bleiweis, President and CEO, expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “The growth at our region’s airport is not just significant; it’s extraordinary. We extend our congratulations to our airline partners for their successes in western North Carolina and express our gratitude to our region’s travelers for consistently choosing AVL for their journeys.”

Farther to the North, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority hosted 50.6 million total passengers in 2023, setting a new travel record at Reagan National and Dulles International airports. This achievement was driven by strong demand at both airports, resulting in a new passenger record at Reagan National and an international passenger record at Dulles International.

“Setting a new record is a remarkable accomplishment that can be credited to continuing recovery from the COVID pandemic and the hard work of our airport team and their partners,” said Jack Potter, Airports Authority president and CEO. “We are not slowing down as upgrades continue for our customers at Reagan National, as well as a new concourse at Dulles International. Our team thrives on recruiting new airline service and finding new ways to provide an outstanding travel experience while planning to meet the region’s long-term transportation needs.”

Reagan National (shown above) broke its all-time passenger traffic record with 25.5 million passengers in 2023. This count exceeded the previous record in 2022 by 6.2 percent, despite flight reductions to accommodate a runway rehabilitation project and capacity limitations at New York City airports.

As the fastest growing international gateway airport in the United States, Dulles International raised the bar in 2023 with 9.3 million international passengers – a new record that exceeded 2022’s international activity by 26.9 percent. Combined with domestic activity, the airport logged 25.1 million passengers for the year. The upward trend can be credited to a strong resurgence in travel demand that led to eight new airlines launching nonstop flights to destinations around the globe over the past two years. With new flights announced for 2024, this brings the airport’s total to 42 airlines and 139 destinations (80 domestic, 59 international).

Also breaking records in the west, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) reported the busiest year ever, stating that 2023 was a monumental year. The year-end passenger numbers for America’s Friendliest Airport® show that PHX has reached a new passenger milestone, and 2023 is the busiest year ever in its history.

More than 48.8 million travelers passed through PHX last year, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 when nearly 46.3 million passengers were served. The year-end passenger total for Phoenix Sky Harbor was 5.6% higher than 2019 and 10.1% higher than 2022.

Even general aviation airports saw good results last year. GA airports owned and operated by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) in Minnesota showed continued growth in 2023 based on year-end data.

The six general aviation airports located across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area supported 370,509 aircraft operations in 2023 (takeoffs and landings), an increase of 8.3% compared to 242,136 operations in 2022.

Click here to view a complete summary of 2023 MAC reliever airports statistics.

The 2023 growth across the six airports has been supported by a focused, long-term development strategy by the MAC. In the previous five years, the MAC invested more than $50 million in safety and modernization projects including new runways at Crystal and Lake Elmo. Another $30 million in capital improvements are slated to begin in 2024 for projects that include runway reconstruction, pavement rehabilitation, new lighting and improved navigation aids.

“The foundation for the 2023 growth was set in recent years by the MAC’s investments in strategic planning, services and infrastructure improvements at each of the general aviation airports around the Twin Cities area,” said MAC CEO Brian Ryks. “This long-term approach ensured that MAC was well positioned to serve the growth in recreation and corporate flying activity, and to accommodate millions of dollars in new private investments that expand services and facilities for airport tenants and users.”

Minnesota’s largest airport also saw growth. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) surpassed 34.7 million total passengers in 2023, closing in on its all-time record of 39.5 million passengers set in 2019 just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 total marks an 11% increase compared to 2022, when MSP logged 31.2 million passengers.

The MAC’s general aviation or reliever airports provide a base for nearly 1,250 aircraft and a network of aviation businesses that support on-demand business flights, charter services, flight training, medical services, aircraft maintenance, as well as recreation and private flying. They are referred to as “reliever airports” because they relieve congestion that would otherwise impact Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which had 323,929 total operations in 2023, a 4.4% increase over 2022.

“Our airports have experienced continued growth and energy as the general aviation sector continues to build momentum across Minnesota,” said Joe Harris, director of reliever airports for the MAC. “The growth has been steady and durable, even overcoming the effects of significant snowfall that impacted our region through the first several months of 2023.”

For Asheville, NC, the outstanding growth in 2023 can be attributed to several pivotal factors. First, airlines actively expanded their offerings, introducing new routes and enhancing services on existing ones. Airlines at AVL now offer 27 unique nonstop airport destinations, the highest in the airport’s history. This diverse range of air service options provides travelers with unprecedented choices and flexibility, whether departing from or arriving in AVL for their travel plans.

Second, local travelers demonstrated a strong preference for flying from their regional airport, a crucial element bolstering airline growth in the market.

And last, the region’s prominence as a nationally recognized travel destination played a pivotal role, with Asheville Regional Airport positioned as the gateway for many of our region’s visitors.

“I would like to personally thank our local travelers and neighbors for their continued support and patience as we manage this ongoing, extraordinary growth,” said Bleiweis. “We are hard at work building the airport passenger terminal of our region’s future, more parking has been constructed, and we are focused on helping the passenger experience be as smooth as possible during this important and exciting construction period.”

In Atlanta, a newly released traffic report shows the largest passenger count since the pandemic. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s (ATL) 2023 traffic report posts strong growth as it served 104.7 million passengers, marking a substantial increase and surpassing post-pandemic levels. This increase reflects the Airport’s robust recovery from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and underscores the resurgence of domestic leisure travel.

Passenger numbers increased by 10.9 million over 2022, an increase of 11.7%. ATL’s highest passenger volume occurred in 2019, with over 110 million passengers traveling through the Airport. In 2023, aircraft operations grew by 7.1%, reaching a total of 775,818 takeoffs and landings. These notable increases underscore ATL’s commitment to facilitating efficient and safe air travel.

In Tennessee, 2023 was a milestone year for Memphis International Airport (MEM), highlighted by a record number of 4.8 million origin and destination (O&D) passengers traveling through the airport. These numbers reflected a full recovery from the pandemic as 2023 numbers represented an increase of more than 10 percent compared to 2022 and more than three percent compared pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Increased passenger demand was also evident in the number of available aircraft seats, with MEM airlines increasing seats in 2023 to more than 3.1 million compared to 2.6 million in 2022.  

“2023 was a tremendous year for MEM as our passenger growth exceeded pre-pandemic numbers and the airport and its staff achieved many significant milestones,” said Terry Blue, MSCAA President and CEO. “2024 will be another year of transformation including the start of our terminal modernization project, our relentless pursuit of frequent and affordable air service, and our transition to a new and enhanced parking system.”

A new record was also realized at the Indianapolis International Airport (IND) with more than 9.7 million people flying through the Indy airport in 2023, a 12.6 percent increase over 2022 – and a 2.6 percent increase over 2019.

“IND is making a strong recovery overall,” said Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority. “Our peer medium hub airports in the Midwest region are showing an average recovery of about 96 percent compared to 2019 with the Indy airport at more than 102 percent recovered.”

Business travel has also shown a significant recovery in 2023, making up 46 percent of the total air travel out of Indy, with 52 percent represented as leisure travel and 2 percent identifying as a new mix of blended travel for both business and leisure reasons.

At Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), December 2023 was the busiest December in the airport’s 41-year history, with 1,094,783 passengers traveling through the Fort Myers airport. This was an increase of 27 percent compared to December 2022.

Even though RSW finished 2023 with 10,069,839 passengers, which was a 2.6 percent decrease compared to 2022, Ben Siegel, executive director of the Lee County Port Authority said 2023 was a tremendous year of recovery following Hurricane Ian. “We are appreciative of the outstanding performance by all of our employees, airlines and airport business partners who support the traveling public every day. We are also grateful for the passengers who support us by making RSW their airport of choice.”

In Kansas, Wichita Eisenhower National Airport reported the second busiest year on record with a total of 1,721,990 passengers that flew in and out of the airport in 2023, making it the second busiest year on record. The record year occurred in 2019 with 1,749,906 total passengers.  Compared to December 2022, passengers increased 12.58%, and for the year, total passengers increased 12.18% over 2022.

Back in North Carolina, Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) topped the all-time passenger traffic record with more than 14.5 million travelers flying through RDU last year, compared to the previous high of 14.2 million. 2023 traffic topped 2019 by two percent and 2022 by more than 22 percent.

A boost in holiday traffic helped RDU end the year strong, with nearly 1.2 million passengers flying through the airport in December. RDU served more than 400,900 travelers between Dec. 15 and Jan. 2, an increase of 22 percent over 2022 and 1.5 percent over 2019. The airport also added four new airlines, 25 new destinations and 49 new routes in 2023.

RDU started 2024 with record-setting passenger traffic in January. More than 967,600 travelers flew through the airport last month. That was 10.5% higher than January 2023, and 4.6% higher than January 2019.

“RDU continues to grow in 2024 with the addition of a new airline, new nonstop destinations and more flights to the cities Triangle-area travelers most want to visit,” said Michael Landguth, president and CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. “January is typically the slowest month of the year at RDU, yet we started 2024 with record-setting traffic, indicating it will be a busy year for air travel.”

That sentiment is echoed throughout the industry as airports look for a strong 2024. “Passenger traffic reached record heights in 2023 and we are excited about the future at MEM, said Glen Thomas, C.M., Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications for Memphis International Airport. “The aviation industry has rebounded from the pandemic and airlines are responding to the significant passenger demand.”