WATERTOWN — North country airports are getting some financial help to cover costs as revenue has dropped because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, to the tune of $2.02 million.
As a part of the American Rescue Plan, millions of dollars in aid money was set aside for rural airports, which have seen passenger numbers plummet as global travel has paused during the pandemic. Upstate New York airports are set to receive just under $2.5 million altogether, but the Watertown and Ogdensburg airports will receive the bulk of the funding.
Watertown International Airport will receive $1,007,648, and Ogdensburg International Airport will receive $1,009,146. Albany International Airport will receive $320,510, and the other nine airports across the state will each receive $13,000.
Ogdensburg International Airport Manager Stephanie L. Saracco said this grant funding was provided based on the amount of grant money each airport has already received from prior coronavirus relief bills.
“Any airport that had received more than four years of operating expenses was excluded from these grants,” she said. “Of course, we were not in that group.”
The money is meant to cover operating expenses for airports that have seen their usual revenue streams and passengers dry up as demand for air travel has dried up. Saracco said the Ogdensburg airport saw 9,000 passengers board a plane there in 2020, down 65% from 2019, when 26,000 passengers flew out of the airport.
“The airport has been required by law to remain open, and we have been open and flights have continued throughout this pandemic,” Saracco said. “Unfortunately, a lot of planes have gone out empty.”
At the Watertown airport, 11,000 passengers boarded planes in 2020, down 52% from 2019, when 23,000 people boarded planes at the Dexter facility.
That has resulted in steep revenue declines for both airports, which have both relied heavily on federal support to stay open during the pandemic.
Saracco said the $1 million grant the airport is set to receive will help cover costs for a while, and along with a CARES Act law that allows airports extra time to pay their bills, the airport is in a stable financial spot for the moment.
“This money is welcome, it will be used for the operating expenses of the airport,” she said. “That means jobs, and keeping the lights on.”
The money won’t last forever, though, and Saracco said the only path to long-term stability again is for air travel to ramp up again. She said she’s already started seeing more passengers come through the airport now, although turnout is still low compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
“I do see an uptick, particularly starting in March,” she said. “Now that the vaccines are out, and some of the travel restrictions have loosened, people are ready to fly again.”
Management from the Watertown International Airport did not return request for comment Tuesday.