Dan Mann, executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Following a busy holiday season for both people and packages, Louisville Regional Airport Authority executive director Dan Mann reflected on the “phenomenal” year the Louisville International Airport and Bowman Field have experienced but spent the much of the time focused on where the airport is headed.

“All the things that are important to a vibrant community are here because of the airport,” Mann said.

The authority doesn’t have economic impact numbers for 2018, but in 2014, it funded a study, which found that Louisville International Airport, Bowman Field and the UPS operations at the airport generated $8.1 billion in economic activity, $348.8 million in state and local tax revenue and 69,900 jobs. Mann said he hopes to update that study to get a picture of the airport’s current impact.

The Louisville International Airport now has service to 33 nonstop destinations, with the announcement of 10 new nonstop flights within eight months this year. Ridership rose 12.5 percent, and flight capacity in the fourth quarter of 2018 lifted 16 percent.

“This level of growth in 2018 is really phenomenal,” Mann said, adding that similar-sized airports aren’t seeming the same growth numbers.

Attracting another 10 nonstop flights would be a tough number to lap in 2019, Mann noted. “We had an aggressive run in 2018.”

But, he said, he expects the airport to see the record growth in 2019 in terms of capacity — more planes and bigger planes.

An updated map of nonstop flights Louisville will offer coming April 2019. | Courtesy of Louisville International Airport

The coup of 2018 was the addition of a nonstop flight to Los Angeles through American Airlines that is starting in early April. In 2019, Mann said, he expects new flights to be low-cost offerings to leisure destinations.

Flights to Boston or Canada, which are in high demand from the business community, are still out of reach for now. Mann said Boston’s airport is facing facility constraints, which hinders the addition of new flights, and Air Canada is “not in growth mode.”

The Louisville Regional Airport Authority, which oversees air service in the area, is going to be prepared when those opportunities come, though. Mann said a $14 million to $15 million international port of entry — which would legitimize that the name Louisville International Airport in many eyes — is already funded and is expected to be operational in three years.

The airport authority is still determining the best place for the international terminal but right now that seems to be just beyond the airport’s security checkpoint to the left.

Within a month of the international port of entry opening, Mann said, he thinks Louisville will have an international flight, likely to a leisure destination like Mexico. He indicated that the addition of international leisure destinations is the first stepping stone toward attracting nonstop flights to larger international business hubs.

The international port is part of the second phase of terminal enhancements, an estimated $100-plus million cost that Mann spoke to Insider about in August.

Visitors don’t have to go through security to check out Book & Bourbon. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Phase 1 was cosmetic changes, including revamping all the food and retail offerings; the second phase will focus on “all the things you take for granted,” Mann said, such as upgrading the HVAC system, escalators and security checkpoints, replacing the airport’s 24 jet bridges and remodeling the bathrooms and austere exterior architecture.

“It doesn’t say, ‘Wow, thank God I’m in Louisville,’ ” he said of the exterior of the airport.

The enhancements also include the introduction of green technology like solar panels and LED lighting and the relocation of the rental car lot to the first floor of the airport’s parking garage. Phase 2 is expected to take five years.