CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Airports around the country are taking major financial hits due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Yeager Airport in Charleston is no exception.
Airport Director Nick Keller discussed the facility’s continuity plan through the outbreak and what is being affected the greatest during the monthly board meeting on Wednesday.
He believed through recent improvements and current sacrifices among departments and staff, the airport will get through this down period.
“We are going to have some rougher days ahead but I think we can get through it,” Keller said during the phone-in and video meeting.
“We can weather the storm and be okay at the end of the day. Once this emergency is over, we are going to have a rebound of travel.”
Keller told the board the airport is seeing an 86 percent reduction in passengers which is what TSA is reporting as an average reduction nationwide.
Only 88 people were screened by the TSA on Tuesday at the airport compared to a daily average since the beginning of 2020 of 677 people per day, Keller said. That’s also an 86 percent decline.
The airport is taking a direct income hit of around $5,000 per day just in parking fees, at the current rate. Keller said only 74 cars were parked in the all-day parking spots in the garage on Tuesday, which is $9 per ticket. An average day at Yeager Airport in the past three months saw 633 cars per day in those spots.
Keller presented the board with a “worst-case scenario” put together by the finance department that included an 85 percent reduction in airline flights, GA flights and military flights that includes variables such as landing fees, fuel sales, parking, and rental car numbers.
That scenario had the airport losing between $600,000 and $650,000 in revenue per month.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Keller said.
He noted that the net income for the current fiscal year to date was around $686,000 per month that should absorb some of the loss. There is $1.1 million in the airport reserve fund that could be used to backfill any losses, as well.
President Donald Trump’s administration and U.S. Congress have been working on a multi-trillion dollar stimulus package for the country which includes up to $10 billion for airports, Keller said. He expects Yeager Airport to receive between $3.8 and $6 million that could be used to offset operational losses and make debt payments.
As part of the package, there will be no 10 percent local share on all FAA grants in 2020 and potentially 2021. Keller had mentioned that the airport had planned to allocate $400,000 to meet grant matching requirements this year for projects that will now be 100 percent federally funded.
Keller noted that the airport is moving along with critical improvement and operations projects such as Marshall University’s flight school and a new U.S. Customs building.
According to Keller, departments around the airports have been taking various steps to save.
“We had a staff meeting on March 16 and we said we are not going to fill any vacant job positions, so we have a hiring freeze,” Keller told the board. “We are going to defer all non-essential discretionary spending that can be deferred. We are asking every department manager, and they have done a great job of this, to identify other ways to reduce expenditures.”
Most employees at Yeager Airport have been working at home but in rotating groups. The plan would make it easier to know what employees needed to be quarantined if someone got sick and avoided a complete shutdown. Airport staff has also been getting their temperature checked when entering the facility.
The airport maintenance staff is there in full capacity and has been cleaning the high touch point areas such as countertops, TSA checkpoints, doors, and restrooms three to four times a day.
The airport also announced the limitation of access to the terminal building to ticketed passengers and rental car customers only. Those waiting to pick up passengers are being asked to wait outside. Those arriving on flights are being handed flyers with the guidelines set into place by the state and the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
“I’m reminded of the greatest generation of World Ward II and they sacrificed so much. It was during the heat of the war that they sacrificed more and were willing to pay more taxes to build the airport,” Keller said. “We are asking people to sacrifice in a different way.
“There’s going to be more sacrifice ahead for our staff and the people of Kanawha County but we are going to get through it.”