The number of travelers coming through Martha’s Vineyard Airport is poised to reach its highest level in recent years and could be approaching historic heights.

About 64,000 people have taken commercial flights at the airport in the first eight months of 2023 — a figure that is already higher than the total annual commercial passengers for three of the past five years. With four months of ridership left in the year, the airport will also likely pass 2021’s total of 65,000 commercial passengers and could overtake 2022, where 69,000 people flew from the small terminal.

Airport director Geoff Freeman wasn’t surprised by the number of passengers, saying ridership rises and falls every decade or so. According to the airport’s master plan, commercial travel at the airport peaked in 1999 when almost 74,000 passengers came through the airport, but then declined steadily until 2010, when it dipped to about 45,000.

About 64,000 traveled through the airport the first eight months of 2023 — Tim Johnson

“We’re definitely climbing up a peak,” Mr. Freeman said of the current traffic. “But we’ve hit those peaks before.”

The rise in passengers comes as almost the same number of planes have flown through the Vineyard skies in recent years. Last year actually had even slightly more planes. Between January and August in 2022, 29,541 planes contacted air traffic control at MVY compared to 29,361 this year.

That means more people are on the planes that are coming and going, according to Mr. Freeman.

“We’re not seeing major increases in the number of airline flights,” he said. “It’s just that the load factors are a little bit higher than before.”

Both June and July aircraft counts were down from last year, with June falling back by 19 per cent.

Those numbers do have to be taken with a grain of salt though, said Mr. Freeman. Counts on the number of aircraft include all planes that make contact with air traffic control. That means a single plane conducting flight training at the airport could result in multiple counts.

For the first eight months of 2022, almost 56,700 people flew commercial flights at the airport. If 2023’s fall season keeps up with passenger patterns in the past couple years, it could be a peak year. In 2022 and 2021, about 10,000 passengers came through the airport in September. If 2023 follows that trend, the airport could reach the record high set in 1999.

September data won’t be available until later in the fall though, Mr. Freeman said, and there could be a dip from recent years because Delta, which had previously flown through to October, cut its seasonal service shorter this year.

Mr. Freeman did say that some of the historic data points going back to the 1990s had slight variations when compared to current passenger counts because of what airlines were included in the figures. Current data did not include airlines like Tradewinds Aviation, a small airline that doesn’t operate through the commercial terminal but still carries commercial passengers.

The summer’s air traffic played out as Island business owners said the season was a mixed bag. Earlier this year, several businesses said the Island’s high-end market was doing well while businesses that rely on day-trippers and middle class were flat or slightly down.

But, according to the chair of the airport commission, things are going well at the terminal. Fuel sales have risen this year and, while the numbers are still being tallied, the last fiscal year appears to have a healthy surplus.

“Financially, the airport is doing extremely well,” said Bob Rosenbaum. “Revenues have been good.”

Heading into 2024, the airport is focused on doing a noise study looking at the impacts of the terminal, as well as upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant and PFAS chemical remediation.

“We’re planning for next summer already,” Mr. Freeman said.