US airports can expect to see a 3.2% growth in enplanements in 2019, a solid level but well short of the 5.4% year-to-date rate recorded in 2018, according to analysts from Moody’s, who predict the US economy will grow 2.3% next year.

Capacity at US airlines is expected to grow between 3.5% and 4.7%, a slowdown from the 4.5%-5.7% growth rate expected for 2018. While seat capacity growth will remain in the low single-digits at most major airlines, ultra-LCCs like Denver-based Frontier Airlines and Florida-based Spirit Airlines are expected to see double digit growth in seats added, at 10% and 14%, respectively.

Although airport finances should remain on solid footing, improvement in key metrics will likely be limited by a narrowing of the gap between budgeted and actual enplanement growth. Additionally, airports will be further restricted by increases in their scheduled debt service requirements, which will lead them to collect more through airline charges and passenger-related revenue —at the same time that enplanement growth is slowing.

Moody’s expects western and southern regions of the country will experience stronger enplanement growth than the northeast and upper-midwest regions because of faster-growing and younger populations, with states like Texas, Idaho and Utah poised to grow the most in 2019. Data from Airlines for America shows that passengers under age 44 experienced the biggest increase in air travel in 2017.

US airports have largely adapted to the disruptive revenue impacts from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft through the use of pickup and drop-off fees, which have even led to a growth in ground transportation revenue at some large hub airports. Airports are expected to further monetize access to the curb by shifting pickup and drop-off to more remote areas and increasing the fees charged at more convenient locations.

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com