Airport maintains critical services while losing millions of dollars

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“The airport provides an essential service. We need to remain open,” says Phil Calderone, chief executive officer of Albany International Airport. “There are flights coming into the airport as we speak, delivering critically-needed cargo … necessary equipment for those first responders.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Travel at Albany International Airport has dropped by nearly 95 percent because of the coronavirus.

“And that’s a good thing,” said Phil Calderone, “in terms of the message that we need to practice social isolation.”

Calderone, the airport’s chief executive officer, praised the leadership of the county executive and health commissioner at Wednesday’s press briefing.

“Internationally and globally, air traffic is down well over 90 percent … That has been devastating to the industry but it is a necessary pain to go through to deal with this virus and get it under control,” Calderone said.

Calderone, a member of the American Association of Airline Executives, said the association had lobbied for funds from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act; the industry will receive $60 billion, he said, with an additional $10 billion for airports specifically.

“We are working with the FAA,” Calderone said of the Federal Aviation Administration, “and making sure Albany International receives its adequate share … based on a number of formulas within the act.”

He added, “That money will help us substantially in dealing with the dramatic loss of revenue.” Calderone said the county’s airport is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a week and millions of dollars a month. Almost all concessions revenue has ended and the airport is losing landing fees, passenger facility charges, and parking revenues among other sources of income, Calderone said.

“We’ll get through this,” he said, noting ways the airport is reducing spending by, among other measures, furloughing employees.

At the same time, Calderone went on, “The airport provides an essential service. We need to remain open. There are flights coming into the airport as we speak, delivering critically-needed cargo that is bringing in critical medical supplies … necessary equipment for those first responders.”

The airport is also used for medevac flights and for “folks that need to travel for essential businesses,” said Calderone.

He praised the airline workers, the air-traffic controllers, and the Transportation Security Administration workers who are “coming to work selflessly every day.” He said he was pleased with the protocols put in place early to protect workers and passengers and said he was not aware of any airport workers “coming down with coronavirus.”

“I put together a coronavirus task force that I’m extremely proud of,” said Calderone. “We met daily throughout the month of March.” Members included the county’s health commissioner, sheriff, and executive as well as doctors and FAA and TSA representatives.

The Albany airport set up a contingency plan for the air-traffic control tower so that, unlike elsewhere, air travel wouldn’t be halted for days. Calderone said that other airports had followed Albany County’s practices and protocols.

He said he had no “crystal ball” to read the future of his industry, but outlined two views. “There’s the optimistic view,” he said, that now-confined Americans will have a pent-up desire for travel once coronavirus restrictions are lifted. This view says that, with lower fuel prices and dropping airfare, the industry will be stronger than before the pandemic.

“There’s another view,” said Calderone, “that’s a bit more pessimistic.” This view holds that would-be travelers will now be disinclined “to take excursions to far-off places,” he said. “A number of airlines will not survive this crisis, Calderone said, predicting mergers and dropped routes.

However, he went on, “We have a great partnership with the signatory airlines … A number have indicated they will continue the routes.” He noted, though, that that could change day to day.

Calderone concluded, “We’re going to get through this because of the leadership at the county.”

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