Passengers returning to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

Allegiant is currently the only carrier providing service in and out of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Nearly all flights were canceled during April, but flights returned in May.

CLEARWATER — After reporting a 97% decrease in passenger travel in April due to COVID-19, officials at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, aka PIE, recently shared some more positive news. May’s passenger count was 78,506, down only 61% from May 2019.

Currently, Allegiant is the only carrier scheduling flights in and out of the airport, but Sunwing Airlines Canadian service is expected to resume this fall, and Sun Country charters to Beau Rivage Resort and Casino are expected to return sometime this summer.

PIE’s passenger count began to decrease in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The effects were obvious during a budget presentation to Pinellas County commissioners on June 3. Staff from the Office of Management & Budget told commissioners that it is unknown how long COVID-19 will have a negative effect on the airport.

Concessionaires revenue started declining in March, and as of May 5, all the airport’s restaurants were closed. Only one merchandise store remained open.

However, with the increase in flights that started the week of May 4, and about 1,000 passengers a day using the airport, plans were in the works to reopen restaurants, but no date had been set, as restaurants were reporting issues with food supply, according to staff.

One related item in the airport’s work plan, the re-bid of advertising concession, has been put on hold until the economy improves.

Non-aeronautical revenue also declined as tenants were unable to make lease payments. PIE deferred three months of rent and allowed six months to pay the deferred amounts.

Another challenge has been recruiting and retaining trades workers and craft workers, which has caused an increase in overtime pay.

The fiscal year 2020 estimated budget has decreased by nearly $2 million, or 10.8%, from the adopted budget, mostly due to the timing of capital improvement projects. FY 2021 budget is down by nearly $7.2 million, or 39.8%, compared to the current year due to deferment of CIP projects.

The airport received a CARES Act grant of more than $8.7 million to help offset the loss of operations revenue. The airport plans to use $3 million of the grant money in FY 2020 and the remainder in FY 2021. Projections show a loss of about $6 million in revenue compared to projections for the current year.

The airport will save about $5 million during FY 2020 by leaving five positions vacant and another $1.4 million by decreasing the use of consultants and contracted services.

The budget for FY 2021 decreased by $5.5 million since it was first submitted due to continuing to hold positions vacant, decreased costs for consultants, decreased for reimbursements for customs and border protection and rescheduling of CIP projects.

CIP projects put on hold include cargo apron rehab and runway conversion, a lift station upgrade, replacement of passenger portal gates, all of which were moved to FY 2022. The installation of a new elevator was deferred to FY 2021.

The airport inserted four expenditures in its budget request, including $50,000 for a crack sealing machine to help extend the life of the pavement, $65,000 for a mower to take care of areas that can’t be safely mowed with traditional mowers, $35,000 to install a security access control server to keep areas secure during a power loss and $33,000 in recurring costs to substitute dumpsters with a trash compactor.

The airport asked for several fee changes, including increasing the badge renewal fee from $12 to $20; lost badge fee from $40 to $75; badge replacement from $5 to $20; and tenant keys from $5 to $25. Staff said the fees had not been reviewed since 2015 and would align them with other commercial airport.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.