On a recent Thursday afternoon, passengers moved about Tyler Pounds Regional Airport as flights went in and out.
In one area was Michael Eaton, 36, of North Carolina, who said he was excited to learn that the airport offered free Wi-Fi.
“I’m getting ready to fire up my computer and do some work,” he said.
Martha Claybrook, 31, is originally from Tyler but was headed home to Memphis, Tenn.
Arriving in Tyler was Don Miller, 71, of Hideaway.
He said he came in from Omaha, Neb., via Dallas and estimated that his flight was about two-thirds full.
They are among the air travelers who have come through the airport in the past year – a year that was marked by growth.
According to airport data, 85,069 passengers boarded a plane and 82,399 passengers deplaned at Tyler Pounds in 2013. That compares to 74,019 and 70,743 for 2012. That’s an increase of 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Airport Manager Davis Dickson attributed the numbers to a combination of things such as competitive airfares, marketing and the convenience of the airport.
As far as marketing, Dickson discussed the new Fly TYR Club rewards program, which launched last month. Under the program, passengers earn free parking by accumulating points for trips out of Tyler.
Dickson said the response so far has been good.
“People are already signing up,” he said. “We reach out to probably a 100-mile radius around us because we have people signing up as far away as Shreveport, (La.).”
Additionally, he said, parking at the airport is convenient, and technology has been added through the airport’s mobile website, making it easier for people to monitor their flight schedules in real time.
“You can tell if something is delayed or on time. We’re finding more people using this mobile site,” he added.
Dickson also noted the free Wi-Fi that is available in the terminal. He said some customers come to the airport to eat at the restaurant and use Wi-Fi.
“We try to make it where it’s comfortable and convenient,” he said. “Our staff believes in keeping the terminal good and clean. It’s 12 years old, and we still get comments that it looks new, and that’s pleasing to hear.”
Aside from an increase in passengers, airport data also shows an increase in car rentals, going from 11,457 for all of 2012 to 13,189 for 2013 through November. Dickson anticipates that once December numbers are in, the total for 2013 could be around 14,500.
Chris Campbell, rental agent with National, said he has noticed more customers, especially at the beginning of the week.
While the airport usage has recently experienced solid growth, that has not always been the case, Dickson said.
“The aviation industry as a whole was going through a lot of change after the 9/11 attacks, and we saw our airline activity go down quite a bit after 9/11,” Dickson said.
In fact, he said, there was a time when the airport had one airline.
Then in 2003, the year after a new terminal building opened, another airline returned to the market, he said.
Dickson said the airport also used to see a prop fleet, but it currently is “all jet fleet.”
“We’ve seen our customers really come back and say how much they enjoy the jet service,” he said.
Additionally, jet bridges were added in 2006, Dickson said, which “enhanced the experience even more,” and in 2007, Tyler Pounds was the FAA’s Airport of the Year.
“That pleased me. We’ve had it before, but to receive that award again was real pleasing,” he added.
In regard to the future, he said the airport expects to get another rental car brand. He said a Thrifty brand is expected to come to the airport in the next couple of months.
Also with rentals, he said a new joint-use rental car wash and maintenance facility is built and scheduled to be operational in February.
He said Tyler Pounds also is working with the FAA on runways and how they are configured in regard to the ability to carry larger aircraft.
And, he said the airport’s longest runway could be rebuilt, not only so it can accommodate larger aircraft but also as a proactive measure with the pavement condition.
“We hope to bring that runway up to a higher standard to be able to accommodate larger aircraft in all weather conditions,” he said.
“We want to make sure we can accommodate what we have and be prepared for the future, too,” he added.
He said Tyler Pounds also is looking at creating more land for private aviation.