COLONIE — More passengers boarded planes at Albany International Airport in 2019 than in 2018, and fewer tried to carry guns aboard.
The Albany County Airport Authority and the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration both issued their annual tallies Wednesday: Travelers set out on journeys from Albany 1,518,969 times, up 3.6 percent from 2018, and security personnel detected just one illegally carried firearm. There were three in 2018.
Neither is a record high or record low: There were 1,558,656 boardings in 2004 and zero guns detected in 2013.
But after a sixth straight year of growth, passenger traffic at Albany International Airport is on track to break the record, spokesman Doug Myers said.
The Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chairman of the Albany County Airport Authority, said the authority’s successful efforts to attract new low-fare carriers paid off. Allegiant Airlines and Frontier Airlines boarded a combined 136,000-plus passengers at the airport in 2019, and neither was on site for the full 12 months.
“We believe that our existing carriers and new airlines will continue to view upstate New York as an opportunity for growth in the years to come,” Doyle said.
The airport is currently undergoing a $60 million renovation and upgrade, including construction of a 1,000-space parking garage for travelers.
Myers said there have been more than 56 million passenger arrivals or departures since the current terminal opened in 1998. Florida remains the destination of choice, with more than one out of four departing passengers traveling to airports in Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Orlando and Tampa.
GUNS DON’T FLY
Meanwhile, the TSA said Wednesday that its agents detected 13 firearms at upstate New York airports in 2019: One each in Albany, Elmira and Ithaca, two in Rochester, three in Buffalo and five in Syracuse.
People who legally possess firearms can fill out the required paperwork and place their gun (locked and unloaded) in their checked baggage with no penalty. But carrying guns on their body or in carry-on luggage is illegal, and carries a federal civil penalty of up to $13,333.
In upstate New York, Buffalo Niagara International Airport usually sees the most guns detected per year but Albany has the most widely varying tallies, ranging from zero detections in 2013 to six in 2017.
(The one detection recorded at Albany in 2019 was a loaded Sig Sauer 9mm pistol with a chambered round, discovered Dec. 8.)
Nationwide, TSA agents found 4,432 guns at 278 of 440 federalized airports in 2019, 3,863 of them loaded and 1,507 of them with a live round in the chamber.
TSA has increased its tally of detected guns every year for more than a decade; 2009 was the last year when fewer than 1,000 guns were found.
A TSA spokeswoman on Wednesday said TSA agents aren’t doing anything differently, there are just more forgetful gun owners packing heat at checkpoints.
“I forgot that I had my gun with me,” is the most common excuse, she said, followed by “My husband packed my bag” or “My wife packed my bag.”
Neither is a valid defense.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, the world’s busiest airport (52 million boardings in 2018), also had the most illegal guns detected by TSA in 2019: 323. Filling out the top five airports for gun detection were Dallas/Fort Worth (217), Denver (140), George Bush Intercontinental, Houston (138) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International (132).
Arizona, Georgia and Texas are consistently ranked among the states with the most gun-friendly regulations.
By contrast, the sixth-busiest airport in the nation (New York’s John F. Kennedy, 30 million boardings in 2018) saw only eight firearms detected in 2019. It is located in a city and state with heavier restrictions on carrying firearms than most other jurisdictions.