The Martha’s Vineyard Airport reached new heights in 2023, reporting the busiest year for commercial flights in its more than 60-year history.

About 78,000 people flew in and out of the airport last year, topping 1999’s passenger record of 74,000 people. The historic high comes as the airport had fewer planes overall, reporting a 5 per cent drop compared to 2022, but saw a surge in ridership during the summer months. 

The changing flight patterns are mirrored in other parts of the region, airport director Geoff Freeman said this week. 

More than 78,000 passengers flew in and out of the airport in 2023. — Tim Johnson

“They peak, they valley, they peak again,” said Mr. Freeman. “I’m thinking we’re getting back to that peak.” 

Predictably, the two busiest months at the airport were July and August. About 21,000 people went through the terminal in July — an 18 per cent increase over 2022 — and nearly 25,400 people in August, a jump of 8 per cent. Overall, 2023’s passenger numbers were a 14 per cent higher than the previous year. 

Seven individual months in 2023 saw increases in passengers. May had the largest percentage jump, up 60 per cent over 2022. 

Mr. Freeman said the number of commercial flights this year was about the same as last, but the airplanes appeared to be fuller. 

“Their load factors are running higher,” he said. “They’re able to fill those seats all the time.” 

Still, the number of planes contacting the air traffic control tower decreased from 42,000 in 2022 to just shy of 40,000 last year. The drop in overall planes is in part due to a slow-down in private plane traffic, according to Mr. Freeman.  

The record number of passengers set in 2023 could stand the test of time. Mr. Freeman guessed that it wouldn’t get too much higher because the airport can’t handle many more commercial flights. The terminal building, built in the 1990s, has several limitations that make it difficult to raise the ceiling much higher in a post-9/11 world.

“We’re not set up to handle any more,” Mr. Freeman said. “There is a plateau at some point.” 

Airport commissioner Bob Rosenbaum added that there are no plans to expand the airfield, and Transportation Security Administration officials can only handle so many visitors. 

“We’ve got a certain soft capacity,” he said. “The airport can’t bring in any larger planes.” 

With the crush of passengers in 2023, came some headaches. Heading into this summer, the airport is working on a non-binding agreement with its airlines to solve a new problem that emerged last year. 

A series of late cancellations left dozens of passengers stranded at the airport in the height of the summer after the last ferry of the day. 

In July, emergency management officials set up a shelter at the airport for about 40 travelers after JetBlue canceled two late flights off the Island. The flights were delayed multiple times for various reasons before being canceled around midnight, making it difficult for passengers to go anywhere else. 

After the experience, the airport asked airlines to consider the realities of Island life when planning future flights. Mr. Freeman said a non-binding agreement is in the works in hopes of putting in new procedures to ensure a similar issue doesn’t arise again in the future. 

“It’s not fair to the public with the limited infrastructure the Island has,” Mr. Freeman said.