The Cajun Comeback: The city of New Orleans is back from its post-Katrina abyss, and so is its air service

New Orleans In the Americas, Copa Airlines likes to connect almost every city that matters with almost every other city that matters. So when Copa announced last week that New Orleans will soon join its route map (see page nine), the announcement was a symbol that New Orleans… well… matters again in the eyes of airlines. The Crescent City will now have one-stop access via Panama City to and from dozens of Latin American cities large and small, including some without service from other hubs like Atlanta, Houston and even, in some cases, Miami.

Numerically, Copa’s service—four B737-700 departures each week—won’t move the needle much. But lots of little numbers add up to big numbers. And sure enough, last week alone, Allegiant added some more little numbers of its own with new flights to Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis and Orlando. The routes will fly just twice a week and only seasonally for three of the four (all except Orlando).

Add it all up, and New Orleans not only continues its ascent from the post-Hurricane Katrina abyss—how could it not recover from handling just 6.2m passengers in 2006, a 35% drop from the 9.7m it handled in 2004, the last full year before Katrina? More impressively, it also, in 2014, actually managed to surpass that 2004 total with nearly 9.8m passengers. In the U.S., having more passengers in 2014 than in 2004, after that lost decade, is an achievement not just for an airport whose region suffered what New Orleans suffered but for any airport—once full 2014 figures are out, more airports than not, especially midsized airports like New Orleans, will have probably posted declines compared to 2004. That 2014 figure also leaves New Orleans within striking distance of the all-time record 9.9m it posted in 2000, a record it looks almost certain to break this year—based on an Airline Weekly analysis of Diio Mi data—considering all the new service, which gives New Orleans nonstop service to 46 destinations, another measure by which it’s surpassed what it had even before Katrina (42).

Naturally, the revelers at this week’s Mardi Gras festivities will be celebrating all the new air service. But what explains the sharp rebound?

In the most basic sense, the same trends that initially caused airlines to flee have now shifted into reverse. After Katrina, the city of New Orleans itself lost a stunning 54% of its population, according to U.S. census estimates—an unprecedented sudden emigration from a…

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