Passenger counts in and out of Portland International Jetport are still down 60%, but Director Paul Bradbury expects vaccinations and the easing of travel restrictions will help airline activity rebound in 2021. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

Vaccines and a scheduled easing of travel restrictions have the director of the hard-hit Portland International Jetport optimistic that business at the state’s largest airport will rebound during the upcoming summer tourism season.

After setting records for passenger boardings in January and February of 2020, travel in and out of the airport plummeted by 97%  in April, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting restrictions took hold in Maine in March, Director Paul Bradbury said. As the year went on, he said, he wondered if activity at the jetport would ever return to a record 1.1 million passengers in 2019.

But now, “the timing of the vaccine and easing of travel restrictions will have a huge impact for the jetport because we are heading into tourism season,” Bradbury said.

Air travel through the jetport has been slowly increasing since last spring’s rapid descent, but Bradbury said the number of passengers leaving from the jetport in 2020, 397,242, was down 63.7% from 2019. The total passenger count, both arrivals and departures, fell from close to 2.2 million in 2019 to slightly more than 792,500 last year.

April through October are typically the best months for airline travel for the jetport, Bradbury said. As of now, travelers arriving in Maine are required to provide a recent negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 10 days prior to their arrival. Those who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days, are fully vaccinated or are coming from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are exempt from those requirements.  On May 1, pending final approval from the Maine Center for Disease Control, those requirements will be waived for all.

The Portland International Jetport is set to receive close to $4.5 million to cover the costs of operations, personnel, janitorial services through September. Contributed / Portland International Jetport

With air travel down, Bradbury said, federal coronavirus relief funding has been critical to keep the jetport up and running. A new round of relief funding, part of $2 billion in funds for airports as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, will help keep the jetport running through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The City Council is expected April 5 to officially accept $4.7 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to “aid the Portland International Jetport in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the COVID­19 pandemic.”

Bradbury said the bulk of the funding – $4.48 million – would be used to cover the costs of operations, personnel, janitorial services and debt service payments through the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2021. The remainder – $233,177 – would be used to provide rent relief for the rental car companies, news/gift stands and restaurants that operate at the jetport.

The jetport is expected to receive additional money from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act , but Bradbury doesn’t know how much just yet.

Between aid from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, Bradbury said he is “very optimistic” the jetport will be in a good position that additional aid won’t be needed.

FedEx cargo traffic at the jetport, meanwhile, has remained steady throughout the past year, Bradbury said.

“That has been the one solid spot. If we were a large cargo airport … we’d be in a much better position. The large cargo airports are doing very well,” he said.

According to Airlines for America, an advocacy group for several major airline carriers,  although air cargo “reached an all-time high” last year, passenger airlines saw a $35 billion loss in 2020. The organization said airline operating revenues fell by 67% between 2019 and February of this year.

Katherine Estep, communications director for Airlines for America, told the Forecaster last May that a full recovery is likely to 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.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.