California Department of Transportation

Physical Address:
Department of Transportation
Division of Aeronautics
1120 N Street, Room 3300
Sacramento, CA 95814

Mailing Address:
Department of Transportation
Division of Aeronautics,
MS 40 P. O. Box 942874
Sacramento, CA 94274-0001

Shipping Address:
1415 11th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

General Information:
Fax - 916.653.9531



Division of Aeronautics


2013:2014 Passenger and Air Cargo Traffic Comparison and Trend Analysis
By Kevin Ryan, October 2015

Why track passenger and air cargo activity? Airline passenger traffic is long considered an indicator of the economy. With improved economic conditions, business and personal travel grows, therefore air passenger traffic increases. However, understanding where the activity is occurring across the State of California makes it easier to understand changes in the aviation industry that are effected by economic factors such as rising operating costs or an economic recession that may impact passenger demand.

According to an article in the USA Today “Airline profits soar yet no relief for passengers,” passenger demand is not always indicative of affordable air passenger service. This lack of affordable service may hinder airline passenger traffic growth and increase the use of surface transportation modes. Even though passenger demand has returned and fuel costs are lower, the airline industry’s choice to cut back services has negatively impacted California’s smaller commercial service airports.

The Division of Aeronautics recently completed the Passenger and Air Cargo 2013 Traffic Comparison Report for the calendar year 2013–14. It demonstrates that the California economy continues to get stronger and provides insights in how changes in the industry can impact local air travel options. A few of California’s smaller commercial service airports have lost their passenger service providers but are attempting to lure a replacement provider. The uncertainty of maintaining less productive passenger routes can undermine a smaller airport’s ability to stabilize its business plan and stay viable.

photo of airplaneIn 2014, more passengers were handled at California’s commercial service airports than any previous year on record in California—191 million enplaned and deplaned passengers. Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport and San Francisco International (SFO) Airport were responsible for nearly 65 percent of the total domestic and international passengers visiting and conducting business in California. Compared to 2013, the 2014 passenger traffic increased at LAX and SFO, 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively. This amounted to an increase of more than 6 million passengers moving through these two facilities.

However, smaller commercial service airports continue to experience decreased service because airlines have switched from turbo-prop aircraft to jet aircraft or terminated underproductive routes. Since 2013, more small commercial service airports have lost their services providers as well, and continue to struggle to engage in a new contract agreement with a replacement passenger service provider.

Remote rural community airports have a particularly hard time landing a service provider and retaining the service over time. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) Essential Air Service (EAS) program provides federal assistance to underserved and economically depressed communities, but limits each state to no more than four airports. California airports currently in the EAS program include: Imperial County, Jack McNamara Field, Merced Regional, and Visalia Municipal Airports. Both Modesto City-County Airport and Chico Municipal Airport (CIC) lost their providers in June and December 2014. To date, neither airport has successfully found a replacement service provider.

Other commercial services airports in California have shown continued passenger activity decreases, including Arcata, Redding Municipal, Monterey Regional, Santa Barbara Municipal, Santa Maria Public, Merced Regional, Long Beach, Imperial County, and McClellan-Palomar. This trend of passenger activity loss and termination of service at the smaller regional airports demonstrates that airlines are eliminating less productive routes and concentrating their routes at a few larger airports.

photo of airplane alsoSimilar to passenger traffic, statewide air cargo has shown a greater than five percent increase by weight since 2013, or nearly four million U.S. Tons. Four airports, including Metropolitan Oakland International (OAK), SFO, Ontario International (ONT), and LAX were responsible for 88 percent of the total air cargo reported to the Division of Aeronautics—15, 11, 12, and 50 percent shares of the total tonnage reported across California.

Finally, similar to the passenger traffic observation of airlines centralizing their operations at major airports in densely populated areas of the State, many smaller and more rural community commercial service airports reported declines in air cargo tonnage while the larger commercial service airports reported increases.


Last Updated: October 14, 2015