CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After months of financial growth and enplanement numbers on the rise, the COVID-19 outbreak globally has put an end to the momentum at Yeager Airport.
But the virus has not dampened the spirits of officials with the airport, who say because of the way things have been going they are much better off than they may have been for an event of this magnitude years ago.
“Right now, because of the strong enplanement numbers that we’ve had for several months and because of the debt we’ve been able to pay off recently, the airport is sitting right now in a strong place financially. We are fortunate in that aspect,” Chris Williams, Public Affairs Manager at the airport told MetroNews.
Williams says enplanement numbers are down 70% so far in March from February. According to the airport’s Feb. numbers, there were 15,554 enplanements in the 29 day month, compared to just over 14,000 in Feb. 2019, a 10.8% change.
Yeager also had nearly 3,000 more enplanements in 2020 Year to Date, 31,417, compared to 2019’s Year to Date totals, an 8.6% raise.
Williams said the numbers began taking a larger decline earlier this week and continued once Gov. Jim Justice announced the state’s first positive case on Tuesday. As of Thursday afternoon, there were two confirmed positive cases, one in Mercer County and the second in Jefferson County.
“As this has gone on and the outbreak has lasted a couple of months now around the world, we have seen a sharp decrease in passengers coming through the airport. We are down about 70 percent right now from February,” Williams said.
According to statements given by major airlines such as Delta and American, two that are in Yeager, capacity on planes have been slashed. The airport announced another hit on Thursday with the newly formed Spirit Airlines flight to Orlando being put on hiatus until demand comes back.
The airport said if passengers have tickets after April 6, the airport will can reschedule or give credit back. The Spirit Airline flight to Myrtle Beach is now starting in June instead of April.
President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing for a multi-billion stimulus package that includes relief for airports and airlines. Williams said Yeager officials are hoping something gets done federally but the facility will continue normal operating and flight hours no matter what happens.
For now, the airport is sending its workers to the job in groups. Williams said rotating groups from home to the airport would make it easier to know what employees needed to quarantine if someone got sick.
He also said the airport maintenance staff is there in full capacity and has been cleaning the high touch point areas such as countertops, TSA checkpoints, doors, and restrooms three to four times a day.
For the projects going on at Yeager, Williams said there’s no slowing them.
“We’re still working with Marshall to get their aviation school built, that is still on track to start on time. We are working to get their hangars built and classroom space built,” he said.
“Our terminal improvements, that is still happening. Then our customs building is still being worked on that will go over by CJC (Capital Jet Center) so we can have the US Customs Building on our property.”