Virus creates uncertainty for local pilots

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Harvey Sawyer at the Jaffrey Airport. Ben Conant / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/10/2020 6:19:19 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 6:19:08 PM

With some major airlines now filling flights to capacity and travel restrictions lifted in several states, the aviation industry may be beginning the climb out of a nosedive caused by COVID-19.

The Transportation Security Administration reported its highest numbers in some weeks for people traveling through security checkpoints on the days before and after the July 4 holiday, though still well below the amount for the same days last year.

On July 2, the TSA reported 636,516 checkpoint passages, and 718,988 on July 3. But numbers for the same time last year were more than twice that, topping 2 million.

“There’s a whole lot less flying,” said Geoff Brock of Lyndeborough, who is a commercial pilot for a major airline company. “The airports are way less crowded.”

Brock said since the start of the travel restrictions, he’s had a lot less time in the air, both due to the down demand, and the increased time spent cleaning the planes between trips.

Normally, he said, he’d be piloting between two and three flights every day. Lately, he said, it’s usually only one.

Travel numbers began to show dips as early as the beginning of March, and in mid-March, when states started to shut down, came the plunge into the hundreds of thousands, rather than the habitual millions of travelers each day, with the lowest numbers in April, with the number of scheduled flights down by nearly 60 percent, and those flying carrying loads of only 5 to 15 percent of their capacity.

This was part of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions cautions against all nonessential travel, particularly from “hotspots.”

But as states begin to reopen, those numbers are climbing back up. But travel is still widely variable state-to-state, depending on their restrictions and guidelines.

Brock said one of his regular routes is flights from New York to Texas. But with travel from New York down severely, he’s doing more flights from the northern Midwest to Texas. Texas, as one of the first states to start the transition into reopening, has maintained a steady amount of travelers, while other states have all but stopped, he said.

“My observation, having been to different cities and states, is that it really varies pretty widely,” Brock said. And that’s based on how strict the government guidelines are. When the guidelines are strict, there’s far fewer travelers. But overall, travel is down across the country.

“Airports are not what you think of when you think of airports, right now,” Brock said. “Airports are built to hold several times the amount of people that are using them at the moment.”

Airlines took different approaches to the issue of social distancing, including blocking the middle rows in larger aircrafts, flying below capacity and investing in electrostatic cleansing after each flight.

It’s not only major airlines that have been impacted by the lack of travel. Harvey Sawyer, owner of the Jaffrey Silver Ranch Airpark, which provides storage for small planes and an airstrip, said business has been nearly nonexistent for the past several months.

Going into what is usually his busiest season, Sawyer said usually, there would be planes flying into and out of the airpark “every day.” But that’s just not the case, currently.

“Business is off drastically,” Sawyer said.

Many of the people who use the airpark do so for business, Sawyer said, to take short trips into bordering states. But with businesses closed or being done virtually, that’s not happening any more.

“No one’s doing anything,” Sawyer said. “I think we’re all just trying to do our part to get back to normal, but it’s an incredible change.”

Sawyer said he has seen some business he doesn’t usually as a result of the virus – including a few flights for travelers who don’t want risk a commercial flight but want to avoid a long drive, but said it’s nowhere near replacing the lost business.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, signed at the end of March, provided $10 billion in funds for airports.

High traffic airports get the most support, with funding based on the number of annual boardings, but the amount of debt and reserve funds are also taken into account.

Sawyer said Silver Ranch Airpark has applied for some of the grants and loans provided to small businesses, but is still feeling the pinch. While there is still some income from storage of planes and a decrease in expense costs such as fuel, he said the lack of flights will continue to be an issue for the airpark if things continue as they are throughout the summer.

Airlines, too, received their own portion of the funding, about $50 billion in grants and loans.

On July 2, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced that five major airlines have extended their loans under the CARES Act, with other airlines in negotiation.

(Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org)




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