Business

Coronavirus means quieter holiday season for Eastern Iowa Airport

Airport director expects $11 million loss in revenue from lack of 2020 travel

Shalean Kuhn uses an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer to clean seats in the Eastern Iowa Airport terminal. (Jim Slosia
Shalean Kuhn uses an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer to clean seats in the Eastern Iowa Airport terminal. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A walk through Eastern Iowa Airport Friday showed no shortage of decorative trees and wreaths, employees in colorful holiday sweaters and corn-on-the-cob-themed souvenirs — just like any other year’s holiday travel season.

But the number of passengers passing those souvenirs — locked inside a shop that’s temporarily closed during the pandemic — is much different from previous holiday seasons.

At the height of the Thanksgiving rush, the Cedar Rapids airport had almost 1,500 passengers in a day. In past years, that day would have witnessed more than twice that many.

“The numbers were good compared to what we’ve been seeing,” said Marty Lenss, airport director. “But when compared to a Thanksgiving rush, the numbers were down quite a bit.”

Spring break and Thanksgiving, Lenss said, typically are the two busiest times for the airport, followed by Christmas. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the airport experiences a lull.

Lenss expects Christmas travel to pick up this weekend and early next week, albeit at lower levels than in a typical year.

The airport usually sees 2,500 to 2,800 passengers per day in the typical Christmas rush. This year, he’s anticipating passenger numbers of more than 1,000 per day.

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Despite the decreased traffic, Delta Air Lines’ nonstop service to Atlanta is the airport’s only suspended route.

The drastic differences in passenger totals is in line with national trends.

The Transportation Security Administration saw 846,934 passengers cross through their checkpoints on Dec. 17. That same weekday a year ago, TSA had almost 2.5 million passengers.

The day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving both had more than 1 million passengers nationally. But it’s a far cry from the 2.6 million and 2.8 million passengers flying on those days a year ago.

Eastern Iowa Airport has seen enplaned cargo increase by 6 percent through the first 10 months of 2020.

“Cargo, really throughout this year, has been a bit of a bright spot for us,” Lenss said. “Now here with Christmas, that gets even busier.”

That doesn’t make up for the 54 percent drop in passengers through the first 10 months.

The airport is expecting to lose $11 million in revenue from the lack of passengers during coronavirus in 2020.

Through the first four months of the 2020-21 fiscal year, the airport’s net operating income was $798,750, down 75 percent from the previous fiscal year.

The only reason it’s above zero, Lenss said, is because of CARES Act funding, which the airport is using over the next four years.

“If you back the CARES Act money out, we’re in negative revenue,” Lenss said.

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That funding “has been vital for us to continue to maintain the staffing levels we have and the payroll that we have.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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