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INFREQUENT FLYERS: Springfield-Branson National Airport officials report airlines are flying at around 50% of their normal schedules from the airport.
SBJ file photo
INFREQUENT FLYERS: Springfield-Branson National Airport officials report airlines are flying at around 50% of their normal schedules from the airport.

SGF airport receives $9M in coronavirus aid funding

Officials cite COVID-19 for 95% plunge in daily passengers

Posted online

The Springfield-Branson National Airport was awarded $9.3 million as part of a $10 billion package from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The Springfield airport is experiencing a precipitous daily passenger drop of 95% year-over-year in April after a historic 2019, said spokesman Kent Boyd. In January, the airport reported a record of nearly 1.2 
million passengers.

“The only thing we know for sure is there’s really no chance in heck we’re going to have 1 million passengers this year,” he said, adding March was down roughly 45% from 2019.

Boyd said March was largely business as usual at the airport until the middle of the month, when the coronavirus began impacting air travel and steep declines in passenger traffic emerged.

Flights from Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are flying about 50% of their normal schedules at the airport, known by its SGF service code, he said.

Passenger counts also have plummeted nationwide, as COVID-19 has ravaged the airline industry.

In mid-March, the Transportation Security Administration reported traveler throughput averaged 1.3 million per day. By mid-April, the daily traveler count was under 100,000.

Springfield’s daily passenger count is only around 100 in April, Boyd said.

“Normally at this time of year, we would expect that number to be between 1,500 and 1,800 per day,” he said.

The financial impact on the local airport is still “a work in progress,” Boyd said, adding more will be known after April’s numbers are tabulated.

One area that is not impacted is the employee count. Officials said the airport has made no layoffs of its 96 full-time employees – and they don’t plan to. One of the conditions of accepting the federal aid is continued employment of at least 90% of an airport’s workforce through the end of 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration.

The CARES Acts funds, administered through the FAA, are intended to support continuing operations and lessen the financial blow of the sharp decline in passenger traffic at airports. Missouri airports received $152 million combined, including $60 million for St. Louis Lambert International Airport and $43 million for Kansas City International Airport.

Funding focus
SGF officials are still determining use for its $9.3 million.

“The rules for how it can be used are wide open,” Boyd said, pointing to debt service, daily operations and construction expenses.

Those aren’t the only FAA funds the local airport plans to spend this year.

Construction is slated to start in May or June on a $7.3 million project to reconstruct a taxiway and repair a runway. Roughly $5.9 million of the cost will be covered by FAA funds the airport received earlier this year. Boyd said the remaining $1.4 million is matching funds from the airport.

Smaller municipal airports in Branson West, Bolivar, Lebanon and Monett each received $30,000 in coronavirus relief aid.

FAA spokeswoman Marcia Alexander-Adams said relief funds are allocated based on a formula reflecting debt service, unrestricted airport reserves and enplanements.

Privately owned Branson Airport was not eligible, according to FAA officials.

Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk declined Springfield Business Journal’s interview requests regarding COVID-19’s impact at the airport.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines, the lone airline providing service at Branson Airport, announced April 13 it would resume Branson flights June 6. The airline returned to Branson Airport in 2018 after discontinuing service in 2014. Its presence helped increase the airport’s enplanement total in 2018 to 11,459 – a 57% jump from 7,293 enplanements in 2017, according to FAA data. 2019 data is not yet available.

Psychological hurdles
At SGF, Boyd said getting passengers back to flying is a multistep process.

“First and foremost, they need assurance from credible government sources and credible health professionals that it’s OK to travel,” he said.

It’s a steep challenge. Domestic flights are averaging around 12 passengers, while international flights average 26, according to the Airlines for America industry group.

The public will have psychological hurdles and a lot of expectations upon resuming travel, Boyd said.

“One of the things we’re going to have to do as an airport is figure out how to accommodate social distancing on a larger scale than we currently are,” he said, noting X’s marking 6-foot distances at security checkpoints may be necessary. “A lot of the push to get people to fly again once they’re reassured will fall on the airlines and their marketing. They’re the people that sell the product.”

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