Things are slowly beginning to look up for Grand Forks International Airport, as the airport board authorized the initial use of funding made available to it through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and airlines have announced revised schedules for later in the year.
The board authorized $5.5 million of the nearly $19 million CARES Act funding to be used for a variety of purposes, after reporting a loss of income of more than $250,000 for April and a forecasted loss of nearly $140,000 for May. Passengers are down 90% at the GFK, which mirrors the 89% decrease nationally, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Airport Executive Director Ryan Riesinger said he has seen a slight uptick nationally in the past two weeks.
Riesinger began his portion of the airport board’s monthly meeting, held on Thursday, May 28, with a statement of support for local law enforcement, after an officer of the Grand Forks Police Department was killed in a shooting on Wednesday, May 27.
“I just want to express that (Grand Forks Police Department) is a great support for the airport,” Riesinger said. “Our thoughts are with them at this time, and, certainly, we want to support them as well.”
The $5.5 million will be spent on operating expenses and will be used to repair roads leading to the UND Aerospace building and Air Traffic Control Tower. The bulk of the money, $3.9 million, will be used to pay off debt the airport incurred to finance previous expansion and improvement projects.
Allegiant Air made its return to GFK, with its first flight to Las Vegas on May 14. The airline has not flown out of Grand Forks since early April. Riesinger said he expects to see one Allegiant flight per week from June to September, which could go to three per week from October through December.
Delta Airlines will continue to offer one flight per day through June, and then go to two per day for July through September. October through December could see three flights per day. The airline will cap the number of passengers on its 76-seat jet at 60% to allow it to keep space between people onboard.
On May 26, UND Aerospace also resumed flight training, though on a limited basis. Some instructors, after a lengthy period of down time, will need to be recertified, and students returning from out of state will need to quarantine for 14 days.
The board also took action to provide relief to hard hit car rental agencies at the airport, by deferring monthly minimum guarantees -- money paid to operate at the airport-- until March 1, 2020.
Due to the low volume of cars in the paid parking lot, the board has temporarily suspended the management agreement with Republic Parking, the group that oversees the lot. The number of cars has been low, sometimes down to 10 per day, and parking fees don’t add up to what is needed to operate the lot. Parking in Lot A will be free beginning on June 1 and will continue until the number of cars increases to 100 per day, or until October, when the issue will be revisited by the board.