It's thumbs up as a ground crew member signals the pilot of an American Eagle flight before passengers disembark in this file photo.(Independent/Barrett Stinson)

Central Nebraska Regional Airport is seeing renewed activity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Olson, CNRA executive director, provided an update on airport business Wednesday to the CNRA board via Zoom.

Olson said COVID-19 has put the airport in “uncharted territory.”

CNRA experienced a “tremendous drop” in passengers and revenue in March and April.

“I think we all felt the shock of how fast the virus forced the economy to stop,” he said. “Obviously, the airport has felt the full effects of COVID. We’re not immune either.”

CNRA had only 206 enplanements in April, the airport’s worst since August 2008, when no daily service was being offered.

“We remain optimistic things will get better,” Olson said. “As of Sunday, we’ve had about 350 enplanements for May. We’ve already passed April’s full month, and I’m hopeful we can see 500 for the month.”

The airport lost “a lot of money” in April and March, Olson reported.

“I expect we’ll continue to lose revenue over the next several months,” he said. “This lost revenue, we’ll never get back, obviously. We’re being prudent with our expenses, though, and have deferred projects until such time we feel better about our finances.”

Vince Dugan, Trego-Dugan Aviation, said their business has also been affected by the coronavirus and the economic downturn.

Their revenues have fallen 80%, he said.

“It’s been quite a rough ride,” he said. “In order to make it through this, we need the airlines and the populations to start traveling again, and that’s happening.”

Trego-Dugan Aviation has 36 stations and 1,043 employees.

“We’ve not laid off a single person,” he said.

Trego-Dugan has worked closely with congressional representatives to make sure CARES Act funds didn’t go only to the airlines, but also to contracted employees, such as baggage handlers, machinists and flight attendants.

“Congress didn’t really understand that those people don’t work for the airlines anymore. They are third party subcontractors,” Dugan said. “It turns out CARES Act had $26 billion for air carriers and did put a separate $3 billion aside for airline contractors, which the definition squarely fits airline ground handling companies. That was a big win.”

Trego-Dugan successfully got a payment protection plan disaster relief loan, a CARES Act loan for its charter operations in Grand Island, and also an airline contractor funding.

“On a local level, it means Trego-Dugan Aviation’s payroll and benefits has been secured through Sept. 30,” Dugan said.

The airport also has benefitted from CARES Act funds, which can be used for expenses approved by the Federal Aviation Administration only.

The funds are intended to keep people employed and airports solvent, Olson said.

“We think we’ve come up with a plan where we can use that to pay for expenses, especially when the main onus is payroll and that includes the insurance that goes with payroll,” he said.

The HEROES Act proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives does not include funds for airports, Olson noted.

Dugan expects business to continue improving.

“For Memorial Day weekend, we’ve seen the flight schedule triple from two weeks ago. That’s nationwide,” Dugan said. “I expect on Labor Day, it won’t be like it was before the crisis, but we’ll be a good part of the way back.”

He added, “What I’m seeing is much better than what I saw four weeks ago.”

There are other signs of improvement across the industry, as well.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 253,000 passengers Sunday, a 90% drop from same date in 2019.

A few weeks ago, however, TSA was averaging less than 100,000 passengers.

“I don’t know if that’s a spike or the first step in recovery, but we’re seeing an increase in the number of passengers flying in the United States,” Olson said. “We’re all anxious to get money flowing in our economy again, and maybe the recovery time will be shorter than experts say. We just don’t know yet.”

Olson detailed practices being put into place as airports move toward some normalcy.

San Francisco has begun taking temperatures and using fewer entrances, he said. Other airports are also looking at technologies used by hospitals, such as body temperature scanners.

TSA will begin doing temperature checks at select airports across the country.

“To me, that’s counterproductive because the passenger is already in the terminal. They’ve already touched surfaces and everything,” he said. “But, TSA wants to step up to the plate and give it a try.”

CNRA will soon start budgeting for 2021.

“It’s going to be a big challenge to come up with a budget with a lot of unknowns,” Olson said. “We’re going to have to put on our thinking caps. I do a very conservative budget anyway, and we will obviously continue that as we move on.”

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