Our local airports may receive more than $46 million in relief from the coronavirus, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week.
These funds, $23.8 million for the Punta Gorda Airport, or PGD, and almost $23.3 million to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, or SRQ, are a part of the $10 billion allocated in grants by the Federal Aviation Administration to commercial and general aviation airports nationwide from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act Airport Program, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced Tuesday.
The grants will provide economic relief to airports around the country affected by COVID-19, funding the continued operations of these airports, replace lost revenue and save workers’ jobs, the U.S. Department of Transportation stated.
The funds are available for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses including payroll and utilities, and airport debt payments.
In order to receive these funds, the airport must continue to employ at least 90% of its staff until Dec. 31.
Each airport must still submit a grant application to receive these funds. The funds will not be given as a lump sum, but the airport will have to spend the money and then be reimbursed, according to PGD CEO James Parish.
Grant funds are determined based on the number of passengers, the amount of debt and the amount of money in reserves the airport has.
“We’re thankful the allocation formula looks at not only the number of enplanements,” Parish said. “The County Airport Authority’s decade-plus long commitment to the low-cost airport model and fiscal responsibility is now coming back to benefit us at our time of greatest need.”
PGD has seen about an 80% reduction in airline-related revenues, such as parking fees, rental cars and commission from terminal concessions. The airport has also experienced substantial losses in revenue with decreased passenger numbers and flights.
“And we’re expecting it to continue through the end of this fiscal year,” Parish said, with March passenger numbers showing a 31% decrease from that time last year. March is typically the airport’s busiest month.
Allegiant Air, the sole air carrier at PGD, has also significantly reduced capacity for April and May up to 90%, however it is still operating all of its routes in Punta Gorda. A route to Savanna, Georgia, which was supposed to start in June, has also been delayed due to the pandemic, according to Allegiant spokesperson Sonya Padgett.
“It’s going to be a slow road back to normal,” Parish said. “So this funding is necessary to keep our employees working and sustain airport operations while we get through this recovery period.”
SRQ has experienced a 95% drop in passenger traffic in April, with revenues falling about $1.5 million under projection, according to the airport’s president and CEO, Rick Piccolo. And though these slow times definitely aren’t good for the airport, with the number of flights down to a quarter of what they were normally, Piccolo seems to have found a silver lining.
“We are using this very slow time to perform projects that normally would have been very difficult,” he said. With only 50 spaces taken up in the airport’s 2,000-space parking lot, Piccolo said they are repaving the lots, which are nearly 35 years old.
The CARES Act was signed into law March 27, and also increases the federal share to 100% for Airport Improvement Program grants already planned for 2020. Typically, these grant recipients contribute a matching percentage of project costs.
“Providing this additional funding and eliminating the local share will allow critical safety and capacity projects to continue as planned regardless of airport sponsors’ current financial circumstances,” the FAA states on its website.