NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — With the departure of another airline from Newport News Williamsburg Airport (PHF), some wonder how much longer commercial passenger travel may be offered there at all.

By mid-April, American Airlines will again be the only airline to service the more than 70-year-old airport. For the foreseeable future, the only direct flight offered will be to Charlotte. 

Ticket agents and remaining vendors alike say the terminal concourse is already more akin to a ghost town most hours of the day. The airport’s current fiscal year operating budget projects a $2.5 million loss.

While an economist thinks this is a sign the Hampton Roads region might not be able to handle two commercial airports, the Peninsula Airport Commission is still of the position passenger traffic can be increased.

The airport beginnings date back to 1946 when the Virginia General Assembly created the Peninsula Airport Commission (PAC) to oversee public and private air service on the Virginia Peninsula. A majority of the 1,800 acre property sits on what was formally the Camp Patrick Henry Army Base, explaining the airports PHF callsign (Patrick Henry Field.)

The current passenger terminal opened in 1992 off Bland Blvd in Newport News. At the time, the airport had five different carriers, flying direct to multiple destinations daily.

A list of aircraft serving Newport News Williamsburg Airport in late 1991 according to

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, for the most part only American Airlines has welcomed flyers.

Delta Airlines suspended service in May 2020 and it never resumed.

In October, Avelo Airlines began flying twice a week to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. However last week they announced they’d be ending service after less than six months, due to poor performance.

Numbers provided to the commission for January showed flights 62% full for Avelo.

Earlier this month the commission, which is made up of six individuals appointed by Newport News and Hampton City Councils, terminated Executive Director Michael Giardino after five years.

Commission Chair Lindsey Carney Smith issued a statement thanking Giardino for his work since 2017, but said “the Peninsula Airport Commission’s growth and development objective is a top priority. Guiding our focus on retention and successfully achieving the Peninsula Airport Commission’s objective of qualitative and quantitative improvement will be best achieved under different management.”

However the airports struggles aren’t new. Passenger traffic peaked in 2010 at around 1.1 million passengers served. Since than, it’s been on a steady decline. Roughly 150,000 passengers traversed the airport in 2022.

Airport management has pointed to several factors over the years, according to commission minutes reviewed by 10 On Your Side. Chief among them include the departure of budget airline AirTran in 2012, following their acquisition by Southwest Airlines, which flies out of Norfolk International Airport.

It was the People’s Express scandal in 2014, however, that landed the airport in negative headlines, Newport News’ city manager out of a job, a criminal conviction for the airport’s former executive director and jail-time for a former airline executive.

But Dr. Bob McNab, an economist with Old Dominion University, said from his vantage point all he is seeing is “supply and demand.”

“This is a market that probably can’t support two major airports for passenger traffic at the same time,” McNab said.

Norfolk’s airport is less than 30 miles from PHF and had its busiest year in history in 2022, with just more than four million passengers served. When Spirit Airlines begins flying to Norfolk in a week, the 84-year-old airport will have eight major airlines.

“We’re seeing network effects. We’re seeing Norfolk add flights and add carriers. It becomes more attractive to other airlines. When we see the Williamsburg airport struggle to retain carriers and generate traffic, it becomes harder to retain carriers to generate traffic; it becomes harder to be viable overtime,” McNab said.

He said Richmond being able to offer cheaper flights is also likely cutting into the reach of PHF.

“PHF will run out of cash in two years if current circumstances remain in place,” Giardino told the commission in April.

Last year, the commission voted to close the mobile home park maintained by the airport, in order to save money, but a $2.5 million deficit is still expected this fiscal year. Per state code, Newport News and Hampton taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the difference once the airport depletes its reserves.

McNab said he wouldn’t be surprised if conversations began for the airport to shift focus to corporate and general aviation needs.

“At some point you have to ask yourself whether the costs of an airport are really providing benefits to the taxpayers who are paying to operate the airport,” McNab said.

Following Tuesday’s meeting of the commission, Carney Smith doubled down on the airport’s commitment to commercial passengers.

“Airports survive on commercial air service. We’ve just got to retrain our communities to come back to PHF and not to our other airports within this area,” Smith said.

She said that will be done with attracting new airlines, a process often done with tax dollars.

Nearly two years ago, the airport was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Small Community Air Service Development Program. The way the grant would work is that $847,646 would fund a minimum revenue guarantee and marketing expenses for a new airline to provide new service to Washington Dulles International Airport. Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson, and Williamsburg, as well as York and James City counties would pledge a total of $600,000 in matching funds for the grant.

Thus far no such service has been provided.

“We are out talking to airlines, we are talking to American about expanding. We are talking to other airlines about coming to PHF. Staying the course is not an option,” Smith said.

Deputy Director John Borden is currently leading the airport and said American Airlines “remains happy” and plans to have three to four flights a day by the summer. There is hope they will restore direct flights to Philadelphia.

“We have a big investment from the business community, and I don’t mean a financial investment, but they’re using our airport or local colleges are using our airport,” Carney Smith said. “So it’s just a matter of turning people’s attention back to us, back to American Airlines and then any future airline that we’re able to get.”