Airport passenger traffic is down a staggering 90% to 94% at Durango-La Plata County Airport as the coronavirus outbreak forces people to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel.
In a typical year, Durango’s airport would see about 3,260 passengers between April 2 and April 8.
This year, however, as flights are canceled and people chose not to travel, that number has fallen to just 226 passengers in the same time frame.
“It’s incredible,” said Tony Vicari, director of the airport. “The downturn in the commercial airline industry is absolutely unprecedented. There hasn’t been a fall off in demand like this ever in the history of commercial aviation.”
Durango’s downturn is not unique – commercial airports nationwide are seeing an average decline in passengers of about 93% to 95% as more strict stay-at-home orders are put in place across the U.S.
So who is still traveling?
Offering general observations, Vicari said many people getting on planes include airline flight crews that live in the Durango area and have to essentially commute to work via aircraft to central hubs in Denver or Phoenix.
He’s seen medical personnel traveling back and forth to Durango. And there’s been a fair number of people going to visit family who may be sick and need assistance.
Flights, Vicari said, are down too, accordingly.
Normally, the airport’s two main carriers – United Airlines and American Airlines – would each fly about two to four arrivals and departures a day. Now, each airline is flying only one or two arrivals and departures a day.
“That’s pretty dramatic,” Vicari said.
The airport itself has not had to lay off its crew. Vicari said the airport is in a strong position to weather the financial losses caused by the pandemic. And, he said the airport qualifies for federal assistance.
The brunt of the impacts, he said, is to the airlines, as well as concessions in the airport like rental cars businesses and the restaurant and gift shop. Vicari said the airport is offering deferred rent options to help the businesses bridge the gap from revenue loss until operations can resume.
But for many airport crews, work remains somewhat normal and consistent.
Air cargo is still being flown into the region bringing freight into the region. The U.S. Forest Service air tanker base is getting ready to mobilize for fire season. And there have been limited military flights.
Vicari said airport staff is taking advantage of low passenger traffic, being able to take care of needs within the terminal and parking lots that are typically hard to do maintenance on when it’s crowded.
“A lot of those needs are hard to maintain with our regular operations,” he said.