Appleton International Airport is on track to have its busiest year

Allegiant Air's expansion at the Appleton International Airport has driven record passenger traffic.
Allegiant Air's expansion at the Appleton International Airport has driven record passenger traffic.

GREENVILLE - The Appleton International Airport is on track for a record year, with more than 850,000 passengers arriving and departing from the airport in 2022, making it the state's third-busiest airport behind Milwaukee and Madison.

“We are on pace to have our busiest year ever," Appleton airport director Abe Weber told The Post-Crescent. "The increasing passengers are certainly a great indicator of growth and development of the airport."

Weber contributed the growth — up from 720,000 passengers in 2021 — to increasing demand for leisure and business travel out of Northeast Wisconsin, especially following a surge in travel after the pandemic.

"Consumers and business travelers are realizing that it's faster and easier to fly to Appleton, no matter their destination," he told The Post-Crescent.

The airport's increase in passengers also comes in part from Allegiant Air adding a third plane to Appleton in October that seats up to 186 passengers, making it one of the largest planes to service the airport.

"It's a really big deal for us," Weber said. "Now we have three Airbus 320 planes based in Appleton where, every morning, those aircraft fill up with our passengers and flies them to the wonderful destinations Allegiant flies to."

Allegiant's passenger traffic has increased 80% this year and carries more passengers to and from Appleton than other airlines servicing the airport.

Delta Airlines had an 11% increase in passenger traffic, United Airlines is up 5% and American Airlines is down 32% in passengers for the year.

The Appleton airport recently upgraded to a small hub airport from a non-hub primary airport, according to the Federal Aviation Association.

The status puts the airport in a better category for funding capabilities.

“This classification elevates our status with major airlines and elevates our ability to acquire grant funding for future projects,” Weber said.

To keep up with passenger growth, the airport has begun work on a terminal expansion project that aims to improve the public area for travelers and expand the concourse to accommodate increased air traffic and larger planes.

Projects include an expansion of the concrete ramp used for planes landing, construction of a third general aviation hangar, a redesigned public area for travelers, ticketing renovations and an expanded baggage claim.

Construction on portions of the project is expected to begin in 2023 and, once finished, is estimated to cost $105 million. The majority of funding will come from federal and state grants.

The airport's most recent regional economic impact report from 2015 found it provided $604 million in economic output that year. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that he has no doubt the airport could reach $1 billion with its plans for expansion.

"This airport is one of the most important pieces, if not the most important piece, of economic real estate in Northeast Wisconsin," Nelson said.

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Sophia Voight can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sophia_voight.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Appleton International Airport is the third-busiest airport in Wisconsin