Lehigh Valley International Airport was on a path to potentially see more than a million passengers this year.
Then, COVID-19 arrived.
The rapidly changing and spreading virus upended nearly 30 consecutive months of positive passenger traffic and put a financial strain on the airport as it continues operating and providing services.
“There is going to be a significant financial impact to ourselves, all airports across the country, all carriers,” said Thomas Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. “Six months ago, we had pilot shortages, now passenger shortages.”
He declined to provide any financial indication of how much of an impact the virus has had so far on the airport’s operations.
The only pay reductions the airport is putting in place right now are from directors and senior managers. A dozen employees volunteered to take a 10% pay cut, but no layoffs are planned, he said.
The airport’s cargo operations remain active.
“We are still getting air cargo coming and going,” Stoudt said. “I’m sure there’s significant demand for packages.”
For airline carriers, the demand has just evaporated, Stoudt said.
One of LIVA’s four carriers, Allegiant Air, has cut about 15% of its capacity for April and May at the airports it serves, but more reductions will come and the cancellations are occurring across its network, said Sonya Pagdett, spokesperson for Allegiant Air, in a statement.
It was only a month ago that the Airport celebrated the arrival of Allegiant Air’s $50 million aircraft base, which brought new routes for air travelers and more than 60 employees.
Allegiant’s investment came at a time of continued strong growth in economic activity at the Hanover Township, Lehigh County-based airport, which has seen month after month of increased passenger traffic and officials sharing hopes of getting more than a million passengers traveling through the airport this year.
Now, Allegiant’s planning team is consolidating demand by cutting flights where it has other capacity for passengers to be re-accommodated easily, Pagdett said. As an example, that could apply to routes Allegiant offers multiple times per day or week. However, that will not always be possible moving forward, she said.
If Allegiant cancels flights, she said the carrier would notify customers directly and provide options.
On March 23, LVIA had 100 passengers going through the checkpoint. Typically, the airport gets 1,500 to 1,600 passengers per day, Stoudt said.
Before March, the airport had 29 consecutive months of passenger growth, said Colin Riccobon, spokesperson for the LNAA.
“It may be temporary,” Riccobon said. “It’s still going to be a road to recovery and it’s going to take some time and patience.”
Flights are still running with many vacant seats on board, but all of the airport’s food and concession services are very limited, he said. Furthermore, Trans-Bridge stopped its bus operations, which means service to the airport stopped as well.
About four years ago, the airport authority was struggling to stay afloat financially and has since rebounded through a number of initiatives. Those gains have left the airport authority in a better position to weather this crisis, Stoudt said.
Although the airport now has about 100 passengers coming a day, it has increased its cleaning and sanitizing practices and these costs have risen in some cases, Stoudt said.
“We are doing our part to make sure we are protecting people,” Stoudt said.