After a difficult decade, activity at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport is starting to soar. It’s reflected in the growth of passenger and cargo traffic and construction activity around the 7,500-acre facility, all key features of the airport’s new five-year strategic plan.

The total passenger count last year through the airport increased 6.6 percent, the largest growth in a decade, to 6.3 million inbound and outbound passengers from 5.9 million the year before. Local passenger traffic, those leaving and returning to CVG, increased 16 percent, representing 367,000 new passengers compared with the prior year, an airport spokesman says.

Those passenger traffic trends are continuing this year. In February, all carriers saw positive year-on-year growth in originating passengers. Demand for warmer climates offered by Frontier and Allegiant helped drive each carrier to a 40 percent improvement over last year. Ultimate Air was up 35 percent while Air Canada followed closely with a 34 percent improvement. American was up 13 percent, and Delta and United were each up more than 7 percent.

One of the key metrics in the airport’s new strategic plan is to increase total passenger traffic by 50 percent to 9 million by 2021.

CVG also saw a significant drop in one important category. Average airfares declined in the fourth quarter last year to the lowest point since the Department of Transportation started keeping track 20 years ago. CVG declined to 22nd on the DOT list lower than rival airports in Dayton and Lousivlle. Cargo traffic experienced dramatic growth as well last year with total cargo tonnage increasing 11.3 percent. For the first time, more than 800,000 tons of cargo was shipped through the airport. Since 2011, largely due to the growth of the DHL hub, cargo volume has increased more than 50 percent, making CGV the fastest growing cargo airport in North America and 34th in the world.

Last year DHL began its latest $108 million expansion, providing ramp space to park 16 wide body aircraft, in addition to other upgrades and productivity enhancements.

Staffing at DHL’s CVG hub has grown 50 percent in the last several years to about 2,400 employees. DHL’s latest expansion, slated for completion this year, increases the cargo carrier’s total capital investment at the airport to more than $281 million since 2009.

Another key goal in the airport’s new strategic plan is to lease up to 350 acres of unneeded land over the next five years to help diversify the airport’s non-airline revenues.

For example, Dermody Properties is leasing 52 acres from the airport for construction of a 900,000-square-foot warehouse for online retailer Wayfair, a project that’s expected to add hundreds of jobs.

This year the airport also has agreed to lease 11 acres to Aeroterm for a $3.3 million multi-tenant cargo facility and 41 acres to VanTrust Real Estate for a $10 million distribution facility to be completed next year.

Demolition of the obsolete former Terminal 1 and 2 buildings is also underway to build a state-of-the-art consolidated rental car facility next to the main terminal. The project promises greater convenience for rental car customers and a reduction in emissions from rental buses no longer having to circle the airport, the airport says.

Not as visible but just as important to the airport’s finances is a new five-year airline use agreement that took effect in January giving the airport a portion of profits generated at the facility for the first time.

Moody’s Investors Service recently upgraded the credit rating on the airport’s revenue bonds, praising the facility for “transitioning from a connecting hub to a multi-carrier, origin and destination airport.”

“We’ve been working hard to diversify our carrier base and revenue streams, and this bond rating upgrade is a reflection of that hard work,” Airport CEO Candace McGraw says.