Nearly 3,300 U.S. airports split about $10 billion in federal economic stimulus funds last week that will provide immediate help in the middle of one of the worst downturns the aviation industry has ever seen.
Commercial passenger traffic has dropped by more than 90 percent over the past month as public health measures designed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have kept citizens at home and businesses idled.
At Pittsburgh International Airport, which usually sees about 26,000 passengers a day, daily counts have dropped into the hundreds. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International, normally the busiest airport in the world with more than 300,000 passengers on a typical day, is now hovering around 60,000. Such a huge drop in passengers harms airports financially in myriad ways, because airports are funded through passenger revenue tied to parking, concessions, a ticket charge as well as airline gate fees.
The amount of money given to each airport was based on formulas that considered several factors, including passenger counts, debt, cash in reserve and more. The funds also came with the stipulation that some larger recipients must maintain 90 percent of their payrolls for the rest of the year.
The $10 billion in federal funding was a small portion of the overall $2.2 trillion CARES Act package intended to keep businesses and individuals afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pittsburgh International received $36 million in economic stimulus, and Allegheny County Airport received $157,000. Bob Kerlik, spokesman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates both airports, welcomed the assistance but cautioned that it was not a complete solution.
“The CARES Act is a good first step in helping airports manage through the current crisis and we are thankful to our congressional delegation for their support,” he said. “The announced allotment for PIT is projected to cover about half of the projected revenue losses for the year, and we look forward to additional funding opportunities with our federal partners.”
Around the U.S., disbursements typically aligned with an airport’s size. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson received more than $338 million, the highest total. Philadelphia International received $116 million, while New York LaGuardia received $102 million.
“We know the money will go toward replacing lost revenues and continued operation and maintenance of our facilities,” Port of Portland spokeswoman Kama Simonds told a local TV station of the $72 million allocated to Portland International. “We need to take care of people, pay our bills, and meet our debt obligations.”
More than 200 airports received $1,000 each, the lowest amount disbursed, including general aviation facilities Kee Field in Pineville, W.Va., and Mid-State Airport in Philipsburg, Pa.
For a complete list of disbursements, click here.