Passenger numbers are gradually starting to rebound at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport after dropping to historic lows in April when many travelers stopped flying because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent flight on SkyWest’s route between Lewiston and Salt Lake City was carrying 26 passengers, compared with April when at least one plane had just four passengers, said Airport Director Michael Isaacs.
He provided the update at a Tuesday meeting of the airport authority board where members approved deferring some landing and rental fees for Lewiston’s only commercial carrier for April, May and June. SkyWest plans to repay the loan by September.
“I don’t see any problem with this,” said Board Chairman Gary Peters. “I can support this.”
The request from SkyWest for the help reflects what has happened to commercial passenger traffic since COVID-19 began spreading.
The volume of departing passengers at the Lewiston airport was down to 100 in April. A more typical amount would be close to 160 departing passengers per day.
“We will be stronger in May than we were in April,” Isaacs said.
SkyWest has noticed the uptick and will be expanding its schedule to seven flights a week by adding two round-trip flights next week. There’s a possibility the airline will start having two daily round trips starting in July, Isaacs said.
The situation in Lewiston reflects what is happening in other parts of the country. Typically about 200,000 passengers are flying each day compared with two million before COVID-19.
“Consultants are predicting about 50 percent of the traffic will be back by September,” Isaacs said.
In other business, the airport board approved requesting a $1.24 million grant through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The money can be used for airport operations. The board hasn’t yet decided specifically what expenses it will cover.
“We will definitely find a home for it,” Peters said. “That’s for sure.”
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