Canadians, low-cost carriers push Vermont airport to record

The tally is final. For the second consecutive year, a record number of people boarded planes at Burlington International Airport in 2008.

Boosted by Canadian travelers and new AirTran and JetBlue routes, 759,021 people — 7.3% more passengers than 2007 — climbed aboard planes at Vermont's largest airport last year. That marks the highest percent increase since the 9% jump in 2005.

"In this economy we're thrilled with any growth in business and 7.3% certainly exceeded our expectations," said Brian Searles, the airport's director.

AirTran Airways began flying from Burlington to Baltimore in May, filling a void created when Independence Air ended its nonstop service from Burlington to Dulles International Airport; Independence pulled out of Burlington in January 2006 after its parent company went bankrupt.

Last year, nearly 41,000 people flew from Burlington on AirTran's route to greater Washington, D.C. The airline, however, has the second smallest market share of any air carrier at Burlington International. Just 5.5%, or roughly one in 20 passengers leaving Burlington hop on AirTran's jets, according to airport data.

That pales in comparison to JetBlue Airways, which has the largest share. More than 190,000 people, or roughly 1 in 4 passengers, left Burlington on JetBlue's New York City and Orlando-bound planes last year, the data said.

US Airways, which is operated by four regional airlines in Burlington (Trans States Airlines, Republic Airways, Piedmont Airlines and Air Wisconsin), combined for the second-largest market share at Burlington International last year: 24.6%.

Another record is anticipated this year at Burlington International.

Bob McEwing, the airport's director of planning and development, projected a 3% to 3.5% growth rate for 2009, or at least 781,000 passengers. That count would set another record. Searles said he would be "pleased" with that level of growth.

The airport has grown substantial over the past decade. In 1998, about 440,000 passengers boarded planes in Burlington.

The Burlington Free Press is owned by Gannett, parent company of USA TODAY.