PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A photo taken inside Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport last March shows passengers waiting in line on a busy day. Another photo shows the airport virtually empty on what should have also been a busy afternoon this week.

The impact the coronavirus has had on travel at the airport was discussed at the Phoenix City Council meeting on Wednesday. James Bennett, the director of aviation services for the City, made a presentation to council members.

How coronavirus pandemic is affecting travel at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Compared to other major events like 9/11 and the Great Recession, Bennett says the COVID-19 pandemic will be the most severe shock to the aviation business and Sky Harbor.

“You could probably combine all of the impacts in the history of the airport together and not see something as shocking as what we're experiencing right now,” Bennett said.

The impact on the industry can be felt everywhere, he says, and it has happened quickly. 

“Even though Sky Harbor looks like this today, yesterday Sky Harbor was the third busiest airport in the U.S.,” Bennett said. “So our business has come to a near virtual standstill in a very short period of time.”

Last year, 46.3 million passengers came through Sky Harbor, and Bennett said it was the busiest year in its history. This year was on track to be another big one. Now, they are seeing about 85% less of the normal amount of traffic.

COVID-19 impact on passenger counts

Here are other points made in Bennett’s presentation:

  • Parking revenue is down 81.1%
  • Southwest Airlines plans to go from 170 to 120 departures from Phoenix in April. All international flights are suspended through May 4. 
  • United Airlines has more than 70% cancellations system wide. 
  • Most businesses closed pre-security, shops' post-security have limited hours. 
  • The department has increased the number of times high-touch areas are sanitized, and there is a 24-hour cleaning schedule through terminals.

As for the future? According to Bennett's current models, they won't come out of this downturn until 2022 or 2023. The bright spot in all of this, he says, is that in the proposed economic stimulus package, there is $10 billion set aside for U.S. airports.

A spokesperson says the airport is also looking to see if there is anything that the City can do for privately employed workers. 


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