LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock Preston-Smith International Airport recently received a big stimulus check, enough to support their operations for an entire year.
Lubbock is one of more than 3,000 airports across the country receiving relief money to offset the dramatic drop in passengers. The program is meant to help airports stay in business, but KCBD NewsChannel 11 is investigating how a program meant to keep airports flying is actually giving some a major windfall.
TSA screenings were down 96% across the country for the month of April. Here in Lubbock, passenger traffic has dropped 95% - crippling numbers to an essential industry.
“The fact is, the whole program from the Department of Transportation, like so much else with this CARES funding, has been totally botched,” said Michael Boyd, President of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting firm out of Evergreen, Colorado.
Boyd says the recent CARES funding act is not all it’s cracked up to be.
“I’m happy for Lubbock. I would not want this apple cart overturned, but airports have a justifiable complaint that this program was incompetently put together. The whole CARES program within the Department of Transportation has been so incompetently handled..."
Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport received about $9.5 million, enough to fund the airport’s operational budget for an entire year. Midland International Airport received nearly $23 million, enough for nearly four years, while Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport saw just north of $7.5 million, enough for about 10 months.
Let’s look at that another way; Lubbock received $19.70 per passenger, while Amarillo received a comparable $21.46 per passenger, but Midland got almost double that at $37.07 per passenger.
“We’re pleased for LBB,” said Kelly Campbell, Executive Director of Aviation at Lubbock Preston-Smith.
Campbell says the use of these funds is very restricted.
“Airports are federally regulated and so there are a couple of hard, fast rules we operate by every day. Revenue generated at the airport has to stay at the airport. So, these funds have to be spent at the airport,” Campbell said.
Michael Boyd questions the method behind how the money was distributed.
“I think the way it was computed was, if your airport had a cash surplus and no debt, it was bonanza time," meaning 80 to 90 small airports on this list that have little debt and some money in the bank, received a financial windfall.
“And that’s why some little airports, I think even like Topeka, Kansas got $14 million dollars. there’s no air service to Topeka, Kansas and never will be,” Boyd said.
For example, a northern Colorado airport, was awarded the most money per passenger, $6,600, while the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, received the least, just six dollars per passenger. An airport in Idaho received $1.2 million, while a competing airport 45 minutes away, with a similar passenger count, will get more than $18 million.
But, Campbell says there were many criteria to be considered in how an airport serves its community: from medical services, to Aerocare, military traffic and general aviation.
“I just ask everybody to keep in mind that the airport is a regional facility that does way more than passenger, commercial passenger activity,” Campbell said.
Boyd says there is an even bigger picture to look at, like airports supporting airlines that request to temporarily cease service to those smaller airports, otherwise, “When the economy turns around in three months, they’re not going to be able to come back to Abilene, they’re not going to be able to come back to San Angelo because they won’t have the money.”
Both Campbell and Boyd agree the future of the airline industry is dependent on our economy’s ability to rebound.
“While we’ve never seen anything like this, it is a resilient business. We survived 9/11, we survived the recession. It’s a resilient business and it will come back, it just will probably be slower than any of us want” said Campbell.
“It’s really going to be an issue of how fast the economy comes back and for your region, it’s going to be even tougher, because it’s dependence on oil and gas,” Boyd said.
For the complete look at how much funding each airport received, see below: