1 An editorial at the beginning of March noted the airport had broken its record for passengers for the fourth year in a row. Then, , the pandemic descended. You sounded full of optimism for that piece. How do you view the future of local air service today?
I still want to be optimistic about our future here in northeast Indiana. The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges and changes, not just for FWA, but for airports and the travel industry as a whole around the world. Our community, and the airline industry, is resilient.
The airline industry has seen challenges in the past – passenger travel rebounded from the attacks of 9/11, and the late 2000s oil spike with a recession that saw airline mergers, bankruptcies and a significant domestic reduction in available airline seat capacity. Again, northeast Indiana (and Americans as a whole) are resilient, and we bounced back from both these events in time.
While it will certainly take time for passenger volumes to return to the pre-pandemic levels of travel, I do believe we will get back there. We are already seeing positive signs such as airlines reintroducing destinations that had been put on pause during the height of the shutdown, as well as adding frequency back. Our passenger traffic has also been steadily increasing since our low in April. We know it will take many people time to feel ready to travel again, but we will be here when they are.
2 How is COVID-19 changing airports? Have you had to place projects on hold?
COVID-19 and adjusting to the “new normal” has made airports hyperfocused on keeping passengers and staff healthy and safe. Here at FWA, we have enhanced our cleaning procedures, added over 40 hand sanitizing stations throughout the terminal, installed plastic “sneeze guards” at every counter area and are offering complimentary packages of masks for all passengers. You'll also notice signs throughout the terminal encouraging people to practice safe social distancing.
Each airline has their own policy for keeping passengers safe during their flight. The airlines, car rental companies and TSA all have their own procedures and protocols that they are following as well.
A positive side of the pandemic is that we haven't had to press pause on our airport improvement projects. In fact, there have been cases where COVID-19 actually helped us get work done faster. We were able to complete our parking lot rehabilitation project in May in one sweeping phase (rather than the planned multiphase approach) with little to no impact on passengers due to the decrease in traffic.
Other projects tied to Project Gateway – our terminal area complex expansion project – include projects that have already broken ground. Construction began on the terminal apron improvement project in March and work recently began our rental car parking lot, where canopies and solar panels are being added to the existing structures as our first renewable-energy effort. We are nearing completion of the design process for the terminal expansion-west project and expect to move ahead as planned in early 2021 with construction.
Admittedly, we have had to place the east project portion of the terminal expansion on hold at this time.
3 What impact will that new Amazon delivery station have on your operations?
It's always exciting to have new businesses around the airport, and we are thrilled to welcome the new Amazon delivery station to Fort Wayne. The airport has healthy cargo operations already from FedEx, UPS and cargo charters. Amazon's entry into Fort Wayne is positive as it delivers jobs, investment in the airport district and has the potential to create additional investment. FWA has land available for non-aeronautical development on Airport Expressway, the Kelley Aero Center on Ardmore Avenue and at the Air Trade Center. The airport and community could certainly benefit by any business development or clustering of new businesses or facilities that may support the Amazon facility.
4 What if some of the changes catch on? What if the four-day business meeting in Los Angeles turns out to have been replaced by a Zoom session? Could airlines find themselves needing to reinvent themselves?
It is very difficult to play the “what if” game. History has shown that significant events in our country, or world, can have influence on travel. While technology can, and will, continue to impact our daily work/personal lives, we will all respond accordingly.
As a country we use aviation as a means of moving people and goods. The pandemic has/will continue to adjust some existing procedures and protocols for travel. While phone calls and virtual meetings are here to stay, in-person meetings are still essential business. Air travel continues to be an amazing means of traveling great distances, point A to point B in a very efficient manner when compared to car, bus and other means of travel. It is my opinion that when a vaccine comes out, and we look at this pandemic in the rearview mirror, people will again take those business and leisure trips.
5 Just between us readers, is it safe to fly now?
It is safe to fly right now, and it honestly may be the best time to fly.
Airports and airlines are doing everything that they can to protect their employees and their passengers – and are heavily focused on keeping everyone healthy.
I personally took a flight this last May and again in July. I felt very safe and didn't hear a single complaint from fellow passengers on my flight.
Passengers choosing to fly right now can rest assured that every effort is being put in to making their airport experience the best, and safest, that it can be.