Regional airports hit hard by COVID-19 crisis

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON D.C. (WCMH) — Small, regional airports are getting hit hard as air traffic has dropped more than 90 percent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) says it won’t allow any airport to lose all service, but some lawmakers say it’s time for Congress to step in.

California representative Norma Torres worries about Ontario Airport, a regional airport in her district outside of Los Angeles.

“We can’t have airports like Ontario completely shut down,” Torres said.

Torres worries that if Americans continue to avoid air travel, airlines might stop service altogether in Ontario and other airports like it around the country.

“They will not lose their services at all,” said Elaine Chao, United States secretary of Transportation.

But Chao says the Department of Transportation does need to look at areas where cash-strapped airlines might be wasting money.

“What we’re seeing is that we may have four or five or six different airlines flying into one destination, and all of them are empty, so that doesn’t make sense,” she said.

The Department of Transportation has allowed airlines to reduce the number of destinations they’re required to service under current law, but even with those cutbacks, Chao says no airport will lose all its flights.

“We have required airlines to serve the communities that they served prior to March 1,” Chao said.

Torres worries smaller airports will still struggle.

“I do not have complete confidence in DOT that they will look out for the interests of many of these airports,” Torres said.

Last month, DOT issued $10 billion worth of grants from the CARES Act to help airports, a short-term life saver for smaller airports until better times arrive.

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