DEXTER — The return of passenger jets at Watertown International Airport is off to a record-breaking start.
Since reintroducing the 50-seat model CRJ 200 jet aircraft July 6, passenger use of American Airlines’s twice-daily flights to and from Philadelphia has increased 42 percent compared to last July.
Additionally, July’s 4,998 total passenger count set a new record for the number of passengers going to and from Watertown International in a single month since Jefferson County took control of the airport in 2005.
“We’re thankful people are using the service and excited the regional jet is back,” Watertown International Airport manager Grant W. Sussey said. “We’re hopeful that the numbers will be good for the rest of the summer season into winter.”
Prior to July, American Airlines had been using the 37-seat Bombardier Dash 8 turboprop plane for more than a year to accommodate construction projects at the airport, particularly last year’s runway extension from 6,000 feet to 7,001 feet. Funding for the $3.5 million extension was granted through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program in 2015.
American Airlines will now keep the jet service at Watertown International year-round, which was ultimately the purpose of extending the runway by 1,000 feet. Larger passenger jet aircraft need certain runway lengths to land in winter conditions.
The airport has exceeded 10,000 passenger enplanements since implementing its twice-daily Philadelphia flights, entitling it to $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration every year. Last year saw 35,756 passengers flown to and from Watertown International Airport using the smaller Dash 8 aircraft.
The airport has a handful of upcoming projects, including rehabilitation of the terminal apron, which is where aircraft are parked, refueled, unloaded or boarded. The $2.1 million reconstruction project will remove pavement deficiencies and improve drainage and lighting.
Other upcoming enhancements include reconstruction of an intersection between a runway and taxiway.