Financial help is on the horizon for airports, which have been battered by steep revenue declines after the COVID-19 virus caused drastic reductions in air travel. Airports around the country soon should start receiving their shares of $10 billion in Federal Aviation Administration grants provided in the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act .
Airports first must apply to the FAA for the funds, and some officials say they were in the application process and haven't yet determined how they plan to use the money.
Construction projects are one eligible use for the CARES grants, but airports are likely to target the dollars for more immediate operational needs.
Payroll probably will be a prime focus, because the CARES Act requires that to receive the aid, an airport must retain at least 90% of the workers it had on board as of March 27 when the measure was signed. Moreover, those workers must stay on the airport’s payroll through Dec. 31.
A couple of airports also mentioned debt service as another possible use for CARES funds.
Funding moved a stop closer on April 14, when the FAA released a breakdown showing each airport’s allocation from the $10 billion.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, whose allotment is $338.5 million, a spokesperson said officials will work with Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms “to determine the exact use of the funds, but it is clear that the assistance from the…CARES Act will allow ATL to continue to provide safe and secure airport operations, while retaining our employees” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The spokesperson, who requested anonymity, noted via email that the airport is Georgia’s largest employer and thus its “financial viability…is paramount not just to the state, but to the entire region.”
At San Francisco International Airport, which is in line for $254.7 million, spokesman Francis Tsang said on April 15 via email that officials will use the funds “to assist with debt payments and costs associated with COVID-19 impacts, which, in turn, will greatly assist in maintaining current Airport Commission staff levels.”
He said airport staffers will start the process for applying for CARES Act funds “in the coming days.”
At the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Ronald Reagan National and Washington Dulles International airports, spokeswoman Christina Saull said the CARES airport funding “is intended to help replace lost revenue to ensure debt payments can be made and ensure that the airports can remain open for essential travel.”
Dulles’s CARES allocation is $143.4 million and Reagan National’s is $85.7 million. In an April 15 email, Saull said authority officials “are currently analyzing the guidelines in how our allocation can be spent and what the appropriate actions are, moving forward.”
She said that construction is continuing on the authority’s $1-billion improvement program at Reagan National, and on a Metrorail transit Silver Line extension.
In the days immediately following FAA’s funding announcement, the American Association of Airport Executives didn’t yet have a full picture of how all airports will use the CARES funding.
But Joel D. Bacon, executive vice president for government and public affairs, said in a statement, “These critical resources will help airports weather the immediate storm caused by coronavirus and better prepare them for the significant recovery efforts that lie ahead as the aviation industry works to recover from this unprecedented crisis.”