March 18, 2020
The joyful days of January when Huntsville International Airport was voted the nation’s best small airport seem a faint memory these days as the coronavirus pandemic has devastated America’s airline industry.
The Huntsville airport, the state’s second-busiest, said Wednesday it forecasts losses between $7-10 million over the next three months after sharp declines in passenger traffic and its residual effects. Those losses will only increase, the airport said, as long as the coronavirus essentially shuts down the country.
Alabama’s largest airport in Birmingham has also seen fewer passengers. Data from Mobile Regional Airport was not immediately available Wednesday.
The bottom line hits for Alabama airports are to be expected as airlines asked Congress on Wednesday for a $60 billion bailout because of plummeting traffic and no end in sight as the nation is urged to stay home in a fight to keep from spreading the deadly virus.
In Huntsville, the abrupt halt in Department of Defense travel has been a gut punch for the airport — which counts about 70 percent of its passengers as business travelers. And passengers from Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal have been so numerous over the years that it has been blamed in part for higher airfares at the airport over the years.
“At this time, Huntsville International Airport is projecting that we will lose 75 percent of expected revenue in the next 3 months alone,” Jana Kuner, Huntsville International Airport Public Relations Manager, said in a press release. “That is a $7-10 million revenue loss in just a matter of 3 months and this loss will continue to grow the longer the pandemic lasts.
“Because of these projections adjustments have been made to operations and our organization is acting in a mission critical mode. This means reducing expenses while also continuing to operate the airport as efficiently as possible. We have three top priorities: The safety of our employees and passengers; continuing to serve this community; and preserving jobs.”
At Alabama’s busiest airport, passenger traffic is down about 23 percent at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport so far in March compared to last year, according to Candace O’Neil, the airport’s manager of PR and marketing. Spring break travel is expected to be “considerably lower” that typical numbers, O’Neil said in an email.
The Birmingham airport’s food and beverage operator as well as the retail operator reported revenue to be down an estimated 40 percent and due to the downturn in traffic, some restaurants and retail stores have temporarily closed.
Parking is down 22 percent at the Birmingham airport as well while rental car companies are reporting a 50 percent drop in bookings over the same time period in 2019.
Bleak as those numbers are in Birmingham, it’s even worse in Huntsville. Last week, the airport reported a 30 percent drop in parking revenue and this week, it’s down 86 percent over last week. Passenger counts at TSA checkpoints are also down about 65 to 70 percent this week in Huntsville.
According to the press release from Huntsville, commercial airports across the country are expected to lose at least $8.7 billion this year, according to Airport Council International – North America. Kuner said ACI-NA has asked Congress for $10 billion in emergency assistance to protect airport losses.
“This is because operational expenses for the airports have continued even as we have seen drastic reductions in passengers traveling through and therefore revenue,” Kuner said in the statement. “The airport can’t cease operation or close the facility so our costs continue and without assistance during this time of extreme economic stress the outlook will be dire. In addition to continued operational costs, HSV has even received requests from one carrier to not adjust fees and to hold invoices for monies already owed to the airport. In essence, we are taking a hit on both sides so help is not just needed, but necessary.”