U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has announced millions of dollars in federal funds for Alabama airports through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including more than $15 million for Mobile airports.
“This $10 billion in emergency resources will help fund the continued operations of our nation’s airports during this crisis and save workers’ jobs,” Chao said in a statement.
Of the $53 million headed to 73 of the state’s airports, the Mobile Airport Authority (MAA) will receive more than $15 million, with the bulk of those funds heading to Mobile Regional Airport.
Curry said the funds could be used for a number of things at Regional, but specifically it is set aside for payroll help, operations and debt service.
“The uses of it, I’m sure, will be further defined,” he said. “It can be used for debt service, operational costs and payroll. There might be other uses.”
The bulk of the funding, or some $15.1 million, is being sent to the regional airport, while only $69,000 is headed to the downtown airport at Brookley. In all, Curry said the authority expects to lose between $1 million and $1.5 million per month while air travel is almost completely shut down due to COVID-19.
“Our activity level is down about 85 percent,” he said. “The overall average of people flying is about a 15 percent load factor.”
To put the change in passengers into perspective, whereas Regional now has about eight flights per day, on a normal day the airport would see about 21 flights, Curry said. The airport still sees passengers on those eight flights per day, Curry said, despite air travel being a health risk.
“There are still people who need to fly,” Curry said. “Whether they’re going to help out a sick relative, or they’re a health care worker, people have specific reasons they still need to fly.”
In addition to fewer passengers at the airport, Curry said the authority knows the crisis will have a negative impact on manufacturers and other businesses that rent from MAA at the Brookley Aeroplex.
“I’m sure there are going to be renters who ask for deferrals, or who won’t be able to pay,” Curry said.
As for MAA itself, Curry said there are no plans to layoff or furlough employees at this time.
“We’re currently keeping our payroll intact,” he said. “The Mobile Airport Authority is not taking a position to lay anyone off.”
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) encouraged airport sponsors to spend the grant funds immediately to help minimize any adverse impact from the current public health emergency. Airport sponsors should work with their local FAA Office of Airports’ field office on the application and grant-agreement process.
“Thank you to the dedicated men and women from the FAA’s Office of Airports for creating an entirely new program in record time to assist airport sponsors in desperate need of these funds,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in the statement.
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