James W. Parish, P.E. is CEO of Punta Gorda Airport. Column provided to the Charlotte Sun.
PUNTA GORDA (May 12, 2020) – I am pleased to share that the Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) staff has worked quickly to respond during the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for the future. While the situation is far from ideal, I am proud of how our team and the Charlotte County Airport Authority Board has worked quickly to adapt and maintain our efficiencies and cost-effectiveness.
There is still a long road ahead of us. PGD’s revenues were slashed by more than 80% as nationwide air travel plummeted. The flow of passengers out of PGD is greater than those coming in, which is normal this time of year. However, incoming passengers was 95% less in April 2020 than in April 2019, and outgoing passengers was 91% less.
Every step possible is being taken to ensure a safe and sanitary airport and flying experience. We are thankful that Allegiant is giving complimentary health and safety kits to each passenger, complete with a mask, wipes and gloves. They are also distancing passengers throughout the cabin whenever possible and maintaining a comprehensive cleaning program for all aircraft that includes a regular schedule of standard and deep-cleaning procedures. As Allegiant directly manages their air service schedule, please contact them directly for itinerary changes, as the CCAA office is unable to assist.
At the Bailey Terminal, we have also stepped up our disinfecting and cleaning protocols and added “distancing dots” in queues for ticketing, screening and boarding. All onsite employees in public areas are advised to wear a face mask and The Junction has new plexiglass separators at counters.
Passengers have been responsive and are complying with new guidance. They are voluntarily wearing face coverings, following the Florida Department of Health’s guidance on self-quarantining, asking family and friends to remain outside the terminal and taking advantage of TSA’s increased allowance of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces.
As our community regains confidence in flying, our airport revenues will return to a healthy level. While it is unclear how long that may take, the CARES Act Airport Grant will help keep us afloat. Without it, we would not be able to keep our staff employed while moving ahead with the capital improvement projects outlined in our Master Plan. The $23.8 million grant will be spread out over the next 2.5 years in the form of reimbursement to the CCAA for monthly operating expenses and for paying off our $2.7 million remaining loan debt from the Bailey Terminal expansion a few years ago.
Many residents do not realize that the CCAA has diversified development opportunities and business tenants beyond Allegiant’s commercial passenger service. Our property encompasses 2,000 acres and dozens of aviation-related organizations, including private charter and air ambulance services, aircraft fueling, hundreds of T-Hangar tenants, and non-aviation businesses like FedEx and Pulsafeeder. Vital public services like the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit, Charlotte County Fire and EMS, mosquito control and more are also based at PGD.
We are moving forward with plans to build out the largely undeveloped tract of land parallel to Challenger Road where the Florida International Air Show was based the last few years. This area will become a hub for general aviation activities to flourish, as well as a prime spot for onsite flight schools, avionics and aircraft maintenance services and related training programs to expand.
By relocating PGD’s existing Fixed Base Operator and GA activities, the Bailey Terminal and airline facilities will have room to expand the current footprint. Despite the challenges the airline industry faces today, we will continue our air service marketing efforts in hopes of bringing an additional airline to PGD in the future.
We are confident that there is a bright future ahead for PGD, but it’s going to be a slow road to recovery for the airline industry and related airport revenues that will follow. It’s critically important to have the support of our community for commercial passenger service, as well as economic development and diversified GA operations.
As we do not receive any Charlotte County property tax dollars, it is essential to work together to keep our expenses low, remain cost-effective, hedge economic uncertainties and take advantage of the right opportunities.
Thank you for your continued support.
Please visit www.flypgd.com and follow the Punta Gorda Airport on Facebook and Twitter.