The Eastern Iowa Airport landed $22.8 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s office announced this week.
It’s enough to avoid furloughing employees and pay for the next 19 months of operational costs, airport director Marty Lenss said.
“We’re very excited to get the money here in Eastern Iowa and get it to work,” Lenss said.
Roughly $16 million of the $22.8 million will go to operational costs. The rest of the money will go toward projects, many of which were tabled when the pandemic started. Lenss views the construction as a way to jump-start the local construction sector.
“One of our other focuses is to really be able to help be a leader in the region and help restart the regional economy,” Lenss said. “We should have a couple years here during a tough time with some robust infrastructure investment to help our local trades.”
With customers increasingly concerned about sanitation, Lenss plans to purchase autonomous floor-scrubbing machines to clean the terminal while travelers stroll through the airport. Staff can then focus on using electrostatic misters to disinfect gate areas between each flight.
“We want to make sure CID is their first choice in air travel, and we have to do that by stepping up and doing stuff differently when it comes to cleaning,” Lenss said.
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Other improvements include an expansion and hangar relocation for the west cargo apron, which also handles charter traffic for the University of Iowa’s athletic department. The project also will position the airport well for future cargo expansions, Lenss said. Bids are likely to come out next spring for the project.
Five buildings on Eastern Iowa Airport’s campus will receive solar panels as well.
“That certainly helps us long-term by reducing our overall operating costs on an ongoing basis,” Lenss said. “And that in turn helps offset airline rates and charges.”
Ongoing runway renovations remain in progress with the additional funding, with bids coming in June. Bids for the construction of a new UPS hub also will come out in June, Lenss said.
The airport has seen a dramatic decrease in passengers during the coronavirus pandemic. Passenger totals were down 97 percent in April 2020 compared to April 2019. Lenss is projecting a five-year recovery to 2019 levels of passenger traffic.
It caused Lenss to creatively look for ways to cut costs — everything from indefinitely postponing the fourth phase of renovations to using less lighting. Furloughs have not been necessary, though.
“It’s going to be a while,” Lenss said.
These challenges are not exclusive to The Eastern Iowa Airport. Des Moines International Airport saw a 95.5% loss in April passengers.
While the CARES Act helps with much of the drop in revenue, Lenss said The Eastern Iowa Airport still has some “tough decisions and hard work” ahead.
“We’re also taking measures to cut costs in other areas,” Lenss said. “Some of those tough decisions still have to be made, and our team is really responding well to that.”
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