ROCKFORD — Nearly 2.8 million people fly daily in and out of U.S. airports. At least that was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After nearly every state in the country enacted stay-at-home orders, Chicago Rockford International Airport Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zack Oakley said daily airline passenger count is now about 90,000.
"Airline passenger traffic around the country has taken a massive hit," he said. "We’re no different. So any revenue derived from passenger traffic is going to reflect that."
It’s not clear how much revenue the Rockford airport has lost since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but Oakley said the $18.6 million grant coming to the airport from the Federal Aviation Administration will "soften the blow."
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth announced Wednesday that airports throughout Illinois will receive just under $70 million from the FAA to address the COVID-19 crisis.
The funds are authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, often called CARES.
The legislation provides $10 billion in federal assistance to commercial and general aviation airports nationwide. The funds can be used for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses including payroll and utilities, and airport debt payments.
The $18.6 million grant to Rockford is the largest allocation among Illinois airport recipients. Oakley said the dollar amount was based on a formula that takes into account a number of variables including an airport’s debt to income ratio.
Exactly how Rockford airport officials will spend the money has yet to be determined.
"We’re really working through right now on how to best allocate those funds to get the greatest impact for us locally," Oakley said. "We don’t have any specifics yet."
Oakley did say the money will be used to help pay operating expenses.
In addition to lost revenue from daily passenger traffic, Oakley said the airport also is experiencing revenue losses from parking, concessions and rental cars.
The global pandemic has even affected the airport’s cargo operations — but in a good way.
"We are up 30% year over year and last year was our biggest year in terms of line of weight at 2.3 billion (pounds of cargo).
"Our partners at UPS, Amazon and all the charter carriers — those companies are doing amazing things right now in being able to get product moved around the country quickly. And these companies are still hiring.
"They are operating at peak volume, something you would see at Christmastime."
Chris Green: firstname.lastname@example.org; @chrisfgreen