Airport ‘dramatically impacted’ by COVID-19

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The Huntingburg Airport has felt the effects of COVID-19.

“It’s been like a switch turned off,” Airport Manager Travis McQueen said. “We have been dramatically impacted negatively by COVID.”

The sky around the airport had been pretty much empty, especially during stage one of the state’s shutdown that started in late March.

“The only operational aircraft we’ve had utilizing the airport during COVID has been the power line helicopter,” McQueen said. “They had not stopped utilizing the airport and consuming jet fuel.”

That helicopter that was part of an ongoing project to install the 345 kV power line from Duff to Kentucky. And the helicopter’s work in this area was completed in mid-May, so the helicopter has moved on to another area.

The lack of airport traffic shows in the amount of fuel sold, or lack of fuel sold, especially to the public. That includes individual planes that come in and use the airport and the fuel the airport sells to retail base customers.

Public fuel sales at the airport in April 2019 totaled $25,598; in April 2020, fuel sales were $13,541. For the first half of May 2019, sales were $19,647; in 2020, they were $7,240.

The five corporations that have a hangar at the airport — Best Chairs, Kimball, OFS, Jasper Engines and MasterBrand — have also slowed down their flights. The companies have fuel farms that they utilize mainly, but they do buy gas from the airport when they need it. Those fuel sales in April 2019 totaled $648; in 2020, they were $102. For the first half of May 2019, sales were $476; in 2020, they were $19.

“The big five basically ceased flying in and out of the airport,” McQueen said of the corporations.

Luckily for the airport, it has several revenue sources. “We have hangar rent and agriculture leases, and those continue to come in,” McQueen said. “Fuel sales is an important part of our revenue streams, but it’s not the only leg our stool stands upon.”

The airport also receives property tax revenue. But McQueen isn’t sure how that funding might be affected by the virus; that is not completely known yet.

The airport is receiving $69,000 from the federal CARES Act to use to help with expenses. McQueen is working on a plan for utilizing the money; the plan will be presented to the Dubois County Airport Authority soon.

The lack of plane activity has benefited the runway extension project that is in progress.

“The non use of the airport has helped our construction project,” McQueen said, “in the fact that we’ve had these cranes up and the airport shut down and nobody has been negatively impacted by that.”

Since construction was named an essential service, the crew could keep working, which means the runway extension project did not slow down. “So that’s kind of the silver lining story through all of this,” McQueen said.

Activity is starting to return to the airport, little by little. Now that the state is slowly moving through stages to reopen the economy, the airport is seeing some movement in the sky.

“I’m seeing flight training happening now,” McQueen said. “It’s nice to see airplanes up and flying again.”




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