BOSTON (SHNS) – Traffic in the Bay State may have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, but not as many people are flying in and out of Boston as they did before COVID-19 disrupted airports and the travel industry, according to the state’s port authority.
Still, passenger volume is trending upward. Over 2.5 million people flew out of Logan Airport in February — around 300,000 more than was forecast.
An estimated nearly 3.5 million passengers will pass through the Boston airport in March and April, but so far in the fiscal year 2023, actual flight passenger numbers have exceeded forecasts every month. Domestic business travel appears to be ticking upward, according to Massport CEO Lisa Wieland, and the lifting of COVID testing requirements in the U.S. for passengers arriving from China has also led to an increased number of visitors.
Meanwhile, the ongoing war in Ukraine, airline supply delays and pilot shortages, and the possibility of U.S. and global economic recession continue to pose challenges to the recovering airline industry.
At a Massport board meeting on Thursday morning, Wieland said the agency is keeping an eye on possible economic effects of two sudden bank failures last week that will likely shake consumer confidence.
Bank runs caused Silicon Valley Bank in California and Signature Bank in New York to both collapse within the past week after the Federal Reserve has been driving up interest rates for the past year in an attempt to bring down stubbornly high inflation.
The U.S. government has said there is little risk of a contagion leading other banks to collapse, but consumers may still be wary of spending money on travel if they fear a recession, Wieland said.
The estimated average of 33.6 million passengers that will fly in and out of Logan in the fiscal year 2023 represents an 8 percent increase over the fiscal year 2022, and a 175 percent increase over the 12.2 million passengers who flew to or from Logan in the fiscal year 2021 when COVID first hit the U.S.
Full recovery is not expected until after the fiscal year 2023, Wieland said.
Financially, Massport is still feeling the effects of COVID-19, partially due to higher operating costs from inflation. Before the pandemic, the authority was targeting a $3.2 billion capital plan which got slashed when they suspended $1 billion worth of projects in the wake of COVID financial impacts.
Projects such as expanding Terminal E at Logan Airport (which would include three gates and a Blue Line Connection), cruise terminal renovation, and Logan HVAC replacement and central heating plant upgrades got put on the back burner.
In a new capital financial plan the Massport board approved on Thursday, the authority is taking back up a number of these plans, which will cost half a billion dollars. These include a phase of the Terminal E modernization, which received $22.5 million in additional federal funding this month, a Terminal E parking garage, Braintree Logan Express parking structure, and central heating plant upgrades focused on reducing emissions.
At $2.7 billion, the approved capital financial plan for the next five years still remains half a billion dollars below the $3.2 billion plan the agency had targeted before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, tolls and traffic have rebounded in Massachusetts. The state highway system announced earlier this month that it is bringing in nearly as much money from tolls as it did before COVID-19.
And as cars and planes are returning to normal ridership, the MBTA is lagging behind. The average systemwide use of the MBTA remains only a bit more than half of the pre-pandemic levels, and the rate of recovery slowed in the past year in the face of widespread service disruptions.