The Center Square – The Federal Aviation Administration will distribute nearly $900 million in emergency assistance to 129 Florida airports struggling to pay salaries and bills with flight traffic down at least 75 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAA grants come from $10 billion in coronavirus relief for more than 3,000 airports nationwide authorized under the federal $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which also includes $50 billion to assist airlines.
According to the FAA’s interactive map, Miami International Airport will receive $206.9 million, Orlando International Airport $170.7 million, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport $135 million, Tampa International Airport $81 million, Palm Beach International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport $36.6 million each and Jacksonville International Airport $28.2 million.
To secure the emergency funding, airports must maintain 90 percent of workforce through end of 2020 as well as sustain “airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses … and airport debt payments,” the FAA stipulates.
According to the Florida Airports Council, the state’s airports accommodate more than 176 million passengers a year and support more than 1.4 million jobs.
Commercial airline flights are down by 75 percent and passenger traffic pared back by 90 percent to 95 percent nationwide since mid-March, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The FAA grants arrive as airports across the state have been forced to suspend collecting rent payments from retailers that lease terminal space and fees from aviation businesses.
Miami International Airport, which also will receive a $64.8 million relief package from Miami-Dade County, has deferred three months of rent for airport businesses retroactive to March 1.
The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority on Wednesday agreed to defer collecting $7.3 million in May rent from airlines, $5.6 million from rental-car companies and $4.1 million from terminal concessionaires.
Orlando International Airport, the nation’s 10th-busiest airport with 50 million annual passengers and an average of 950 flights daily, has seen passenger volume plummet nearly 95 percent and the number of daily flights decline below 200.
On average, 70,000 people fly outbound from Orlando every day. As of this week, the authority said, the average is about 1,000 a day.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer called the May payment deferrals a “stop-gap” measure. Even with the FAA grant, it is uncertain whether the airport can sustain operations and avoid furloughs should the pandemic persist beyond May, he said.
Authority Executive Officer Phil Brown told the board he expects Orlando’s post-pandemic economic recovery to be slower than elsewhere because of the area’s tourism-fueled economy.
“Next year will be much tougher,” Brown said. “I’m expecting about half the passengers we had.”
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in a statement, said the FAA assistance Tampa Bay area airports will receive – Tampa International ($81 million), Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands ($69,000) and Tampa Executive Airport ($69,000) – are “critical to our economic well-being.”
“In the days ahead, I’ll work to speed additional aid to boost our economy and ensure lifeline services, like air travel, continue here in Tampa,” Castor said.
Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano said Tampa International and the two general aviation airports “are critical economic drivers for the communities they serve. This historic grant funding will provide much-needed relief to help mitigate the unprecedented and dramatic drop in business we’ve experienced and will ensure we’re able to recover and resume operations when that business returns.”