Stewart Airport, which is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), has seen a hit in its airline travel, along with many other airports across the country and globe.
During PANYNJ’s monthly board meeting, Executive Director Richard Cotton reported that between November 9 and 13, the airport passenger volumes were down 77 percent compared to the November 2019 average.
“The agency will track these numbers closely in the coming weeks to determine whether this is any part of a longer term reaction of rising coronavirus positivity rates in the region, or simply represents a temporary drop,” said Cotton.
With the low activity volumes, the PANYNJ has seen a large hit financially. In a question and answer session, Cotton said that Stewart Airport is no exception to the impact of COVID-19. In fact, Stewart Airport has seen the most percent change from this Thanksgiving holiday season to 2019’s when compared to the PANYNJ’s other three airports. Stewart Airport is expecting 810 passengers from November 25 to November 29th. This is an 84.3 percent decrease from last year’s 5,174 passengers, “a stark reality shared with small airports across the nation.”
Lindsay Kryzak, director of corporate communications at PANYNJ, said that there were “promising signs of growth, with announcements of new non-stop domestic service and record-breaking cargo activity,” at Stewart before COVID-19 hit. However, one sign of good news is that Stewart Airport’s cargo growth has continued to increase, up 60 percent of tonnage in September, due to partnerships with larger operations like FedEx and UPS.
Currently Stewart Airports three other carriers, American, Delta and JetBlue, are suspended. With their connectivity being so important to Stewart Airport’s travelers and the region, Kryzak said, “we hope to welcome them back as regional travel recovers.”
PANYNJ has had revenue losses of $1.4 billion from March to October. Cotton described it as one of the worst financial drops in PANYNJ’s recent history. The forecast for the remainder of the year is a projection of revenue loss of $1.7 billion.
Additionally, 68 Port Authority employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 30 days. None of their employees are hospitalized and 245 are in quarantine.
“As the number of cases and positivity rates climb, we are highly focused on ensuring the agency remains vigilant and we are taking all actions we can to ensure the health and safety of our workers,” said Cotton.
Despite less air passenger volumes across the board, PANYNJ is still expecting a slight bump in air travel over the next week or two for all of their airports. However, they have seen a downward trace of passengers after the second wave has come and described it as “precipitously low.”
“I would say that there are two trends that may be about to cancel themselves out,” said Cotton. “The first trend is that there have been an increasing number of public health studies of the safety of air travel given the measures that airports have taken and an increase in research. The obvious counter trend is the explosion of the virus across the country.”
Stewart Airport, along with the other PANYNJ airports have a number of safety protocols that are put in place to ensure minimal contact. They have touchless approaches for checking in via mobile devices and have plexiglass partitions across their airports. Additionally, hand sanitizer is available throughout the airports and face coverings are required at all times. There are decals that signify a six foot distance and lines are reconfigured if they are too close. Overnight there is deep cleaning and disinfection for the entire airport.
“We’re highly focused on executing a strategy to bring travel back to Stewart as the COVID crisis recedes,” said Cotton. “We’re confident, particularly with the recent news about a vaccine, that will occur. Air travel will return to Stewart and other Port Authority airports.”
Cotton said it’s not a question of if, but when air travel will return.
The tourism and travel industry have taken a blow across the board. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said on his November 17 COVID briefing that New York City tourism said that it will take four years for its tourism to return to pre-COVID numbers.
“That’s a sobering number,” said Neuhaus. “Not shocking to us, but it is still sobering. They said they won’t begin to see a rebound until next spring or summer at the earliest. That has pluses and minuses for us.”
He said that Orange County could potentially take what it has to offer, like more space and area to hold safe events, and make the most out of the situation. However, he warned of bringing outsiders into the area if it spreads COVID.
Kryzak said she hopes to see that the opening of attractions like Legoland in 2021, in addition to a vaccine, will help drive a strong domestic and international tourism recovery to the Hudson Valley.