The Portland International Jetport is set to receive $12 million in federal aid to help make up for loss in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic, which has slowed passenger traffic to a crawl. Press Herald file photo

PORTLAND — Passenger travel at the Portland International Jetport has plummeted 90% over the last two months, and the jetport is losing $1.6 million in revenue monthly, according to Director Paul Bradbury.

Pre-pandemic, about 80 flights came in and out of the jetport each day. Now there are roughly 10 per day. Airports nationwide have also reported dramatic drops in the number of passengers.

Federal money is expected to come soon to help the jetport and other airports across the country. The jetport is set to receive $12.1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The grant is expected to be officially accepted by the City Council June 1.

The FAA gives airports flexibility on how they spend the funding.

“We will use it all to cover our operating expenses and debt service,” Bradbury said.

The jetport receives no taxpayer or city funding.

Close to 70% of the jetport’s revenue comes from things like parking, rental cars and sales at its restaurants and gift stores. The remainder comes from airport landing fees and rent from airliners. The loss in revenue comes at a time when air travel to and from the jetport typically is at its highest and right after a record number of travelers in January and February.

The jetport has been able to cut operating expenses by $70,000 a month by imposing a freeze on all non-essential hirings and spending, and by reducing contracts for parking, security, baggage handling, passenger services and custodial services.

The federal funding, Bradbury said, will cover the jetport for nine to 10 months and prevent it from having to dip into the $22.7 million it has in cash reserves, which are typically used for projects such as new restrooms, passenger lounges or the relocation of Transportation Security Administration offices.

“If we drain the reserves, it puts us in a negative position when demand comes back,” he said.

Nationwide, just under 230,370 passengers boarded departing airplanes May 20, down 90% from the 2.4 million that flew that same day last year, according to the TSA . Several times in April, daily departure boardings were less than 100,000 individuals, including on April 14 when there was only 87,500.

“The last time it was that low was 1954, the dawn of general aviation,” Bradbury said.

The planes that are flying out of airports, including Portland International Jetport, are routinely not at full capacity. Less than one in 10 planes across America is more than 70% full. Courtesy / Portland International Jetport

“Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. airlines were transporting a record 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo each day and driving 5% of U.S. (gross domestic product),” said Katherine Estep, communications director for Airlines for America, an advocacy group for several major airline carriers. “This crisis hit a previously robust airline industry at lightning speed and, unfortunately, recovery will not be nearly as swift.”

Estep said as of May 19, Airlines for America carriers, which include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS, had idled 3,194 aircraft, or 52% of its fleet. The planes that are flying are averaging 39 passengers per domestic flight, down from 85 to 100 per flight in January and February 2020.

Bradbury said he expects conditions to improve and passengers habits to return slowly as 2020 continues and 2021 approaches.

The recovery, Estep said, may take awhile.

“Passenger volumes took three years to recover from 9/11 and over seven years to recover from the global financial crisis in 2008,” she said.

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