With local tourism continuing to set records, city officials announced Tuesday that Los Angeles International Airport has surpassed its 14-year-old peak for passengers, making it the second-busiest commercial airport in the nation.
The West Coast gateway handled an estimated 70.7 million passengers last year, far exceeding a previous record of 67.3 million travelers set in 2000, according to economic data released at a news conference at LAX.
The number of visitors to L.A. rose to 43.4 million in 2014, the fourth record in as many years and a significant gain over 2009, when visitors dropped to 34.4 million during the recession. Even more travelers are expected in the future.
"The city has set a goal of 50 million visitors a year by 2020; we are well on our way to meet that goal," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the news conference. "This means billions of dollars injected into our economy. Los Angeles is serious about being the destination for people to visit in the U.S."
Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council members, airport officials and tourism industry representatives gathered inside the recently remodeled Tom Bradley International Terminal, which is the centerpiece of a $7-billion modernization and expansion of the airport.
The new figures show that the growth in visitors is reflected in the city's hotel occupancy rates, which rose from the previous record of 75.1% in 2006 to about 79% last year.
Tourism in Los Angeles supported an estimated 442,000 jobs across the region and generated $184.4 million in hotel taxes for Los Angeles during fiscal 2013-14, officials said.
Visitors spent $18.4 billion locally in 2013, which generated about $28.3 billion in economic benefit overall, according to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. Though official numbers are not available yet, board officials say visitor spending rose last year.
"Los Angeles has emerged as a leading global tourist destination," said board President Ernest Wooden Jr., who noted strong increases in international travel and four straight years of record-breaking growth.
At LAX, the new passenger figures marked a significant turnaround from the dramatic declines in air travel stemming from the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the worst recession since World War II.
As many Americans grew concerned about airline security, the number of passengers plummeted roughly 18% to about 55 million by 2003. After some recovery, the economic downturn reduced the volume to 56.5 million in 2009.
The West Coast gateway rebounded slower than many other major commercial airports because of the deeper effects of the economic downturn, changing travel patterns and natural disasters overseas, most notably Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Still, by 2013, LAX handled a record 17.8 million international travelers, exceeding a previous record of 17.5 million in 2005. Last year, figures show that the number jumped to a new high of 18.9 million.
Airport officials attribute the resurgence to an improving global economy, especially in Asia, and a strengthening of the Southern California economy.
"LAX is dramatically different than it was years ago," said City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes the airport. "We are busting the myth that L.A. can't have a world-class airport."
Garcetti declared that LAX has now dislodged Chicago's O'Hare International as the second-busiest airport in the nation in terms of passengers. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International is No. 1 with about 95 million travelers annually. Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver round out the top five.
The mayor cited passenger statistics showing that LAX led O'Hare from January to November of last year and is projected to have more travelers in December than Chicago. The official rankings, however, will be determined by the Airports Council International in April.
Follow @LADeadline16 for aviation news