April 24, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stifle business aviation operations around the country, general aviation (GA) airports nationwide are feeling the effects of fewer operations and, in some cases, drastically lower traffic counts.

“We’re down at least 75%,” said Joe Frasher, director of Greenville Downtown Airport (GMU) in South Carolina. “Business aviation is our bread and butter, and while there’s still an occasional flight here or there, traffic has decreased tremendously and our FBO is taking it on the chin. We’re usually the busiest GA field in the state.”

Timothy Rogers, manager of Salina Regional Airport (SLN), also reports his traffic counts have taken a hit from the suspension of flight operations and pilot training at the nearby Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.

“We’ve used this time to accelerate a major maintenance project on our main runway,” he said. “One encouraging sign has been fairly healthy levels of transient traffic at our field’s two FBOs, with pilots still stopping for fuel. We call our airport ‘America’s Fuel Stop,’ and even though we’ve felt the effects from the decrease in business aviation operations, so far we’re riding out the storm.”

Springtime is typically an extremely busy period for Bartow Executive Airport (BOW) in central Florida, with hundreds of airplanes parked at the reliever field for GA traffic to the annual Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In in nearby Lakeland. Airport manager John Helms said that event’s cancellation for 2020 compounded an already extreme drop in traffic.

“My rough estimate is that we’re looking at about a 90% reduction in air operations,” he said. “There’s virtually no activity, but all airport businesses remain open and our MROs are using the time to catch up on maintenance backlogs. We’re also thankful for the support the federal government has provided for GA; it may not cover all our losses, but it’s definitely better than having to swallow them all.”

Across the country, the COVID-19 situation also has led to sharp decreases in activity at two inland California airports. Bishop Airport (BIH) has experienced a 95% drop in GA activity, including the loss of charters flights carrying guests to ski resorts at nearby Mammoth Mountain.

“We’d usually have ski traffic up to the July 4th weekend, but that’s all gone,” said BIH Airport Operations Supervisor Steve Loven. “Most of our based traffic are older pilots who fly recreationally, and they’re staying home right now.”

“I’m thankful right now that I don’t have hundreds of employees,” added Scott Seymour, general manager for Inyokern Airport (IYK) at the opposite end of the Owens Valley. “Our transient traffic is down as much as 95%, and local has dropped by about 75%. We’ve also lost out on film shoots and military operations.

“I haven’t had to let anyone go yet,” he continued. “We received $20,000 under the CARES Act, which helps offset our anticipated lost revenue of between $22,000 and $28,000 this month alone. But we need to be able to start flying again soon.”