CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following record-low enplanement numbers during parts of April, Yeager Airport is seeing a turnaround in passengers flying at the Charleston facility.
In mid-April, the airport was sitting at a 95 percent passenger decline with 15 to 30 people flying per day and two to five flights taking off a day as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country.
Following the airport’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, Airport Director Nick Keller told MetroNews that days in May have varied between 80 and 90 people flying a day with Saturday, May 23 hitting 155 passengers.
Keller said the airport still has a long way to go in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as the normal average for this time of the year is over 700 passengers per day.
“It’s great to see the numbers going back up. With all the cleanings going in airports and on airplanes, I do not think flying is unsafe. So I think people are ready to travel, especially this summer. Hopefully, we continue to see an increase,” he said.
The revenue numbers in April reflected the lows of enplanements as Keller said the airport suffered a loss of about $380,000 in revenue compared to the budgeted amount. That number was better than what the board estimated at its April board meeting of up to $800,000.
Keller told MetroNews he predicts another revenue loss in May but better numbers in the summer months. The airport is currently putting together its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and preparing for a slow rebound.
“We’ve cut over $700,000 in our budget for next fiscal year. We’ve eliminated some positions that were open and unfilled. We are just trying to take prudent actions and be conservative in our planning. We will use the CARES money we received from the FAA to backfill any losses projected in our budget,” Keller said.
Keller said members are predicting a passenger count around a fifth of normal operation and it will be reflected in the budget. He said it could take up to two years for the airport to get back to normal averages with enplanements.
“For our next budget year, we are planning to have only 20 to 25 percent of our normal passenger count. That’s to be conservative because we just don’t know,” Keller said.
“If there is another wave of the virus that causes confidence to decline in travel and quarantine then we just don’t know.”
During the April board meeting, the board accepted the CARES Act grant funding through the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) which totaled $4,810,956. The airport has not had to lay off any employees and has used part of the CARES Act money to give hourly workers a “Hero Pay” bonus.
Operations are getting back to normal as Keller said the Capital Jet Center plans to have normal employee rotations next week. The maintenance staff at the airport is working in day-night shifts to avoid being all together.
Following the meeting on Wednesday, the airport announced the Spirit Airlines seasonal service from Yeager to Myrtle Beach International Airport will resume on July 2. The flight was scheduled to start in April but was pushed back due to COVID-19 and related travel restrictions.
The flights are currently scheduled to operate on Thursdays and Sundays through September 6th.
Keller expects the Spirit flight to Orlando to come back to three days a week soon, along with other flights that were lost due to the virus as airlines across the country begin to rebound.