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Article by: Frances McMorris

Tampa International Airport saw its passenger traffic in April soar to nearly 1.8 million travelers.

The airport served 1,799,519 in April, up 5.6 percent for the same month one year ago.

At the regular monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs the airport, Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing, said the increase was “driven up by Southwest Airlines.”

Dallas-based Southwest (NYSE: LUV), TIA’s largest by market share, saw its passenger total rise by 10.8 percent so far this year, Minner said. Miramar-based Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) and Denver-based Frontier Airlines also had strong showings.

But the busiest carrier in April, Minner said, was Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK) with a 97.7 percent load factor, which refers to the number of people on a flight. “Alaska had very, very full flights,” Minner said.

April 2017 also boasted the highest total number of international passengers coming through TIA in the airport’s history. TIA served 98,844 international travelers that month, up 16.8 percent from the same period in 2016. Leading the way was Air Canada, which was up 23.4 percent due to larger planes.

TIA’s “Cuba service continues to thrive,” Minner said. “We carried 50 percent more passengers to Cuba in April of this year over last year.”

Southwest’s new route between Tampa International Airport and Havana that began Dec. 12 has helped drive TIA’s Cuba traffic and the resulting revenue, which rose by 23 percent to $1.4 million for 2016, up from $1.13 million in 2015.

Additionally, TIA also announced new service to Montreal and Toronto on Air Transat, a 30-year-old airline focused on the Canadian holiday travel markets. The new service begins Feb. 18, 2018 and weekly flights will operate on Sundays. It will provide seasonal service through April 2018.

Air Transat carries approximately 3 million passengers to nearly 60 destinations in 30 countries aboard its fleet of Boeing narrow-body and Airbus wide-body jets, according to its website. Air Transat is a business unit of Montreal-based Transat A.T. Inc. (TSX: TRZ), an integrated international tour operator, which posted revenues of CDN $689.3 million for the quarter ended Jan. 31.