The owner of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has received $125 million in federal money to help it weather the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some $10 billion was set aside by federal lawmakers for airports nationwide, part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) bailout.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which owns and operates MSP, said it will use the cash infusion to help pay down $1.6 billion in debt, cover operating costs and move forward with several construction projects.
While the airport is still open, the number of passengers being screened at both terminals has declined 95% when compared with the same period last year.
“We are seeing fewer than 1,500 people a day at MSP’s security checkpoints, compared to the 35,000 to 40,000 we would normally expect,” said MAC Spokesman Patrick Hogan. Three security checkpoints in Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) and one at Terminal 2 (Humphrey) have been closed until demand recovers.
The onset of the coronavirus has also resulted in the suspension of 94 of MSP’s 167 airline routes, Hogan said. A number of airlines either have suspended service at MSP or plan to do so, including Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air France, Condor, JetBlue, KLM and Spirit.
Only 26 of MSP’s 127 food and retail concessions remain open, and only for reduced hours because of diminished demand, Hogan said. Passengers are using just 2% of the airport’s parking capacity, resulting in the closure of the Blue, Red, Quick Ride and Valet garages at Terminal 1 and the Purple garage at Terminal 2.
“It is clear from MSP’s empty parking ramps, roadways, ticketing lobbies and concourses that people who don’t need to travel are heeding the call to stay home,” MAC Executive Director and CEO Brian Ryks said in joint statement.
The federal stimulus money will help the MAC pay its debts, bolster its efforts to retain its bond ratings and keep borrowing costs as low as possible.
Work will continue on some big improvement projects at the airport, including the expansion and modernization of the Terminal 1 ticketing and baggage claim area, Ryks wrote.
Work on the six-year project is about halfway done. By moving forward when there are relatively few people at the airport, the impact on travelers will be minimized and construction jobs are preserved, Ryks said.
While grateful for the federal aid, MAC officials worry about the precipitous drop in revenue from rent and fees generated from airport users and say more relief may be needed. The commission has deferred nonessential expenditures and cuts costs where possible, Hogan said.
At the same time, the MAC is exploring short-term relief for airlines, concessionaires and auto rental companies by temporarily deferring or waiving some rent and fees.
In better days, the airport supported some 87,000 jobs and pumped $16 billion a year into the local economy, according to a MAC study.
“People and businesses understand how important it will be to recover suspended air service and travel demand when the threat from COVID-19 eases,” Ryks said.
The MAC will receive an additional $678,000 from the CARES Act for its six reliever airports, including St. Paul Downtown (Holman Field) and Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.