Air Travel

How are we doing?

The Tucson airport ranked near the bottom of comparable airports with 4.4 seats per capita available annually in 2019. The graph below highlights the substantial differences between hub and non-hub airports. For example, Denver was the top-ranking hub airport in our comparison region with 26.5 seats per capita in 2019, while San Diego had only 9.1 seats per capita as the top ranking non-hub airport. Hub airports have a considerably higher number of annual seats per capita, and departures per day, in order to accommodate connecting passengers. The number of seats per capita for the Tucson airport has declined by 31.2% from a high of 6.3 in 2000 to 4.4 in 2019. However, there has been a slight increase in seats per capita over the past few years.  

Why is it important?

Annual seats per capita and departures per day are important determinants of an airport’s financial health, regional economic impact, and the availability of air transportation offered. Measures such as annual seats and departures per day are determined by the airlines, often out of a local airport’s control. The number of available airline seats and departures at non-hub airports is driven by local demand and competing airports in the same region. In contrast, airline route planning is an important factor in the number of available airline seats and departures at hub airports.

How do we compare?

The Tucson airport ranked near the bottom of the non-hub airports in 2019 with 4.4 seats per capita available annually. The Tucson airport is comparable to the San Antonio airport, which offered slightly more annual seats per capita at 5.0. The relatively new Phoenix-Mesa airport, had only 0.4 seats per capita available annually in 2019, while San Diego had the most seats of the non-hub airports at 9.1. The non-hub airports include: Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, El Paso, Phoenix-Mesa (AZA), San Antonio, San Diego, and Tucson.

The Tucson airport ranked fifth out of seven non-hub airports in 2019 with an average of 57 departures per day, a significant decline from its 2007 average of 78. San Diego far exceeded the other non-hub airports in 2019 with an average of 290 departures per day, while Phoenix-Mesa (AZA) averaged only 16 departures per day.  

What are the key trends?

The Tucson airport posted a slight increase in seats per capita between 2000 and 2005, followed by a sharp decline during the Great Recession. Following the downturn, the Tucson airport substantially increased the number of seats available per capita between 2009 and 2010, by nearly 19 percentage points. The Phoenix area airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor, followed a similar growth pattern as the Tucson airport, while Phoenix-Mesa, a new airport, posted wide fluctuations in seats per capita.  

How is it measured?

Annual seats per capita represent the total number of inbound and outbound seats available per capita each year. Departures per day are the daily number of flights taking off from an airport. The Volaire Aviation consulting group provided the data. Per capita measures are calculated using the population of the metropolitan area where the airport resides.