Airport seeks financial assistance for pandemic costs, car rental struggles

Then car rental entrance at Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport was quiet Thursday afternoon. More cars are being rented than at this time last year but it comes with a heftier price tag now. (RJ Morgan/County17)

The Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport (NWRA) is no different than other entities and businesses when it comes to the financial blow caused by COVID-19. The loss of car rental revenue and the increased cost to just open the doors have officials looking for some monetary help.

The airport reached out to Campbell County Commissioners to get their approval to pursue more grant money. NWRA got sweeping approval to move forward with the applications.

All money would come from Federal Aviation Administration CARES Airport Rescue Grants, which is the third round since the pandemic. The airport received nearly $1.1 million in relief money which started with the first round under President Donald Trump.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 [H.R. 1319, Public Law 117-2] was signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. It includes $8 billion in funds to be awarded as economic assistance to U.S. airports to prevent, prepare for and respond to the pandemic.

To distribute those funds, the FAA established the Airport Rescue Grant which has been made available to all airports that are part of the national airport system, including all commercial service airports, all reliever airports and some public-owed aviation facilities.

Under the Airport Rescue Grants, primary commercial service airports with more than 10,000 annual passenger boardings will share about $6.5 billion of the funds. It will be similar to how airports receive Airport Improvement Program entitlement funds.

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Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport qualities in that group as it typically has about 30,000 passengers a year. The pandemic dramatically cut into that number last year, but it still managed to fly about half that number.

“We took a hit,” said Todd Chatfield, who took over full-time as executive director of NWRA in July. “We are on a better path this year and should only be down about 30 percent competed to pre-COVID-19”

The largest of the requests doesn’t require a grant match with increased costs directly related to COVID-19. That grant is for $1,145,381 and it would go toward a new lift station, HVAC system upgrades, fixtures to help stop the spread of pathogens and additional costs from a much stringent cleaning process.

“The lift station we have is nearing 40 years old, so it’s time,” Chatfield said. “We have an emergency generator for power outages but it doesn’t control airflow. We need to install a backup generator that will work regardless and prevent stagnant air. It would guarantee fresh air in the event of outages.”

The second grant requested totals $25,270 and would be used as relief from rent and minimum annual guarantees to eligible in-terminal airport concessions, which means car rentals at NWRA. It’s a non-matching grant as well to offsets costs not in the FY 2021 airport budget.

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Concessions is service provided at an airport, not a food a drink area.

“The only concessions that we have are the car rentals. If we have them pay less than their annual guarantee, we can use this money to make it whole,” Chatfield explained. “Like in 2020, they were unable to meet their contract because it was at the height of the pandemic with limited travel.”

The car rental companies go to the airport board and request rent assistance or forgiveness due to loss of revenue because of COVID-19. The board then determines the amount of assistance, partial or total.

Chatfield noted that both companies are doing much better this year. However, not because business is booming as the airport is still looking to be down about 10,000 passengers by year’s end.

“The price of car rentals have exploded this year, so that’s helped increase their numbers,” Chatfield said of the companies who have increased their rates nearly quadruple of years past and have eliminated one-way trips.