Manchester is too close to Boston. That, in a nutshell, is why Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has struggled for the past decade and a half.

The latest blow: Just three days after a new airline said it would be starting service at Manchester-Boston regional Airport, Spirit Airlines says it is leaving, partly because it isn’t selling enough tickets.

(ADDENDUM: Four days later, Breeze Airways announced that it would soon start flights out of Manchester to Florida and Charleston, S.C., so we’ve got two arrivals and one departure in a week. Story is here.)

Spirit said it would suspect service to Orlando, its only year-round operation from Manchester, and its seasonal connection to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as of May 7. In a statement, the company cited “ongoing operational constraints related to Pratt & Whitney GTF engine availability and seasonal demand for our MHT flights.”

MHT is the aviation abbreviation for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Pratt & Whitney, one of the world’s major manufacturers of jet engines, recalled all its GTF engines last year due to safety concerns and has been slow to replace them.

Spirit has been struggling in recent months, partly because its proposed merger with JetBlue is in regulatory limbo. It has stopped service to 10 cities in South and Central America over the past year, which has sharply cut its traffic through a number of U.S. cities. The Manchester announcement is its first cut of service to a U.S. city.

The news is really painful because Spirit was the airport’s hope for a rebirth. It began service at Manchester in October 2021, marking the first new airline at the airport in 17 years and a hopeful sign after a decade of traffic decline.

The good news is that earlier this week, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines said it will fly Boeing 737-800s between Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport starting August 8. Although it has only announced one flight a week and the service may be seasonal – Sun Country’s announcement emphasizes visiting our fall colors – the news gives Manchester airport its first connection to a Midwest city other than Chicago in a long time.

Sun Country Airlines has roots dating back decades but only switched to its current model in 2017. A sizable chunk of its business involves cargo flights including a contract with Amazon Air, which began flying into and out of Manchester-Boston in late 2022.

Cargo traffic has been the one bright spot for the Manchester airport in recent years, with warehouses and logistics firms sprouting up around it. However, passenger service remains the bread-and-butter of commercial airports and that’s a gloomier picture.

Passenger traffic at Manchester peaked in 2005 at 4.3 million passengers a year after years of fast growth fueled by the arrival of Southwest Airlines in 1998. Since then, however, it has been hurt by consolidation in the airline industry and proximity to Logan Airport, which has been able to lure back airlines such as Southwest that once shunned it.

Passenger traffic in Manchester has fallen almost every year since 2005 as international carriers such as Delta and Air Canada have departed, leaving just American, United and Southwest. 

In 2023, 1.3 million passengers came through the airport, which was double the number of the pandemic year of 2020 but well below 2019’s figure.  

Low-cost airlines have been the growth segment in America’s aviation industry in recent years. Copying the playbook that Southwest developed in the 1990s, many prefer smaller regional airports like Manchester because open gates are available and gate fees are lower. This is where proximity to Logan is a problem, since some firms consider Manchester part of the immediate Boston market and won’t come to both airports. The most painful example from Manchester’s point of view is JetBlue, which they’ve been trying to lure for years.

Breeze Airlines, another fast-growing low-cost carrier with national aspirations, has surrounded Boston with regular service to Burlington, Vt., Portland, Maine, and Providence, R.I., but hasn’t come to Manchester. (NOTE: I left this paragraph in as a sobering reminder that “the first draft of history” is often wrong)

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