Airport taking hit during pandemic

ESCANABA — As the pandemic continues to hammer air traffic across the country, even the Delta County Airport is feeling the sting.

“Obviously, we’re expecting once more people are able to be vaccinated and feel safer flying that there’ll be an uptick and we’ve also adjusted our flight schedule, so hopefully that’ll help too, but yeah, it’s still really, really down,” said Delta County Airport Manager Andrea Nummilien.

Passenger boarding, known in the air travel industry as “enplanements,” was down 57% in 2020 compared to 2019. The worst month in that period was April of 2020, which was down 97% from the prior April.

“In April of 2019, we saw 1,400 enplanements. April of 2020 we saw 42,” said Nummilien.

Despite the drop in passengers, the airport is in a relatively safe position as far as federal funding. Because air travel is down across the country, the Federal Aviation Administration has stepped in and said all airports can use their 2019 numbers when seeking funding.

The drop in passengers hasn’t hit all of the airport’s services, either. Car rentals through the Enterprise office at the airport have been relatively stable as more people are opting to drive to their destination rather than fly.

“If a company wasn’t allowing employees to travel by air, they were booking rental cars to take them to the meetings,” said Nummilien, underscoring that even some who may prefer to fly mid-pandemic could be relegated to rental cars by their employer.

Private hangar rentals have also been relatively stable, as most of the people who have invested in personal aircraft are typically in a better position to financially weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic.

“I don’t know how sustainable it is, but most of the time people who are owning planes to begin with have really solid businesses that aren’t really affected by something like this or they’re retired people that have the time to put into flying an aircraft — so they’re already in a spot where they’re able to afford an aircraft,” said Nummilien.

Still, the Delta County Airport’s primary service is to provide passenger flights for those without planes of their own. During a pandemic, that means providing flights safely.

According to Nummilien, increasing safety has been a joint effort between the Delta County Airport and Delta Airlines, which provides flight service through the airport. The airport has upped its cleaning regimen, and Delta has taken to fogging airplanes after every flight to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.


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