Multiple regional hubs in the US, Puerto Rico and Micronesia to benefit from FAA’s airport improvement grants

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The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award more than $627 million in infrastructure and safety projects to 390 airports throughout the US, Puerto Rico and the Federated States of Micronesia. The funding will be allocated through the FY2021 Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

AIP projects promote safety, efficiency, environmental stewardship, infrastructure and security at the nation’s top airports. Describing the grants as “an investment in safety and continued aviation,” FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson added, “every airport in every community plays a vital role in our air transportation system.”

Meanwhile US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg noted that airports offer a lifeline for the communities they serve. “Modernising our infrastructure in a way that creates jobs, ensures safety, combats climate change, and fosters equity is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. These Airport Improvement grants will help airports across the country better serve their communitieis.”

Examples of regional airport projects receiving grants include Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (pictured) which will receive more than $19.5 million for the reconstruction of its Runway 08/26. The project has been described as critical due to the poor pavement conditions, which have reduced payload capacity of aircraft using the runway by 25%. The project is scheduled to be complete in 2025.

Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport in Colorado meanwhile is receiving more than $1 million to expand and improve the terminal to allow the airport to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

In Alaska Newtok Airport is receiving more than $21 million for the construction of a new airport to replace the existing facility. The Newtok Alaska Native community which comprises 374 residents is relocating to higher ground alongside the new airport, as the ground surrounding the existing airport and village is eroding. The residents depend solely on aviation to transport people, goods, mail, medicine and other essential services.

Other projects include a $15.8 million runway reconfiguration at Willow Run Airport in Michigan,  the construction of an apron and taxi lanes at Salt Lake City Airport in Utah, and the construction and rehabilitation of an expanded hangar building at Sawyer International Airport in Michigan.

Regional hubs in Canada welcome restoration of WestJet routes suspended as a result of COVID.

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WestJet is restoring domestic flights to Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Sydney and Quebec City after service was suspended as a result of COVID-19. The reinstatement of service to the five airports is set to be resumed from the end of June and will restore WestJet’s complete network of pre-COVID-19 domestic airports.

“We committed to return to the communities we left, as a result of the pandemic, and we will be restoring flights to these regions in the coming months, of our own volition,” said Ed Sims, WestJet, President and CEO. “These communities have been a crucial factor in our success over our 25 years and it is critical for us to ensure they have access to affordable air service and domestic connectivity to drive their economic recovery.”

In addition to the resumption of services to these five airports, WestJet will also resume service between St John’s and Toronto, which was indefinitely suspended in October. And following a temporary suspension the restart of service between St. John’s and Halifax will be advanced from 24 June to 6 May.

“Our focus remains on the safe restart of air travel. We ask that federal and provincial governments work with us to provide clarity and certainty to Canadians, including travel policies that support economic recovery and restore jobs,” continued Sims.

In recognition of the investments that WestJet’s travel and tourism partners in the respective regions need to make to begin to recover from the pandemic, the airline will continue to encourage the Atlantic premiers to advance their efforts to ensure the region is open to Canadians this summer.

Sims concluded that alongside an accelerated and successful vaccine rollout, “we are hopeful that there will be an easing of onerous travel restrictions currently in place. We look forward to working together to safely reconnect Canadians to the region in the coming months.”

Editor’s comment: Healthy celebrations for regional hubs

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With hygiene and wellbeing a priority for airports as part of COVID-era regulations, regional hubs across Europe have come out on top when it comes to implementing the best hygiene measures, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe.

Earlier this week ACI Europe revealed the winners of its Airport Service Quality (ASQ) awards, with a new award for this year being ʻBest Hygiene Measures by Regionʼ.

A total of 15 winners were recognised in the new category for their success in responding to the intense focus on hygiene as determined by customer responses to new health measures. The winners included: Alicante-Elche (pictured), Federico Garcia Lorca Granada-Jaen, Menorca, Pamplona, Murcia and Seve Ballesteros-Santander airports in Spain; Faro, João Paulo II in Ponta Delgada, Madeira and Porto in Portugal; Helsinki-Vantaa in Finland; Keflavik in Iceland; Skopje in North Macedonia and Tallinn in Estonia.

Sponsored by travel technology company Amadeus, ACI Europe’s ASQ departures awards also celebrated a number of smaller regional hubs across Europe with less than 5 million passengers per year. The ASQ departure awards highlight the world’s best airports as judged by their customers with different categories depending on the number of passengers served per year.

Offering his congratulations to all the ASQ winners, ACI Europe’s Director-General, Olivier Jankovec, highlighted how the effects of the pandemic have hit hard as passenger numbers plummeted, workforces were reduced and local communities were paralysed by travel restrictions. The awards he said, “signify the very essence of Europe’s airports as: Resilience teamed with the highest standards of customer care.” With that, he added “Bravo to all our winners, and to each and every member of our airport community as they continue to deliver excellence in the face of adversity.”

In the bigger scheme of things, the awards might seem like small victories, but with health and hygiene measures key to the recovery of airports and the wider aviation industry, perhaps there’s a thing or two the ‘little guys’ can teach the big hubs!

I hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter and have a great weekend.

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway

UK government extends airport slot waiver

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The UK government has introduced legislation to extend the airports slot allocation waiver over the summer 2021 season, in support of the aviation industry through the  summer season.

Pre-COVID, airlines had to operate flights at least 80% of the time in order to retain their slots. But the extended slot allocation waiver will help protect future connectivity and prevent airlines from operating high-cost carbon-inefficient ‘ghost flights’ in order to retain historic rights to slots. The waiver had to been due to expire in spring.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “I want to restart international travel as soon as it is safe and the slots waiver is a critical part of making that happen.” With airlines flying a smaller proportion of their usual schedules, he added “the waiver means carriers can reserve their finances, reduce the need for environmentally damaging ‘ghost flights’ and allow normal services to immediately restart when the pandemic allows.”

News on the extended slot allocation waivers also comes as the UK Prime Minister announced that the relaunched Global Travel Taskforce will deliver a report on 12 April outlining a framework to restart international travel, as wider restrictions are lifted over the coming months.

Future of European regional air connectivity hangs in the balance

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has warned that the future of regional air connectivity remains at risk. The aviation trade body is calling for a more supportive EU policy framework.

Around 1.72 billion passengers were lost across the European airport network last year as a result of the global pandemic. More than 836 million (49%) were lost by regional airports – with smaller ones accounting to more than half of that loss (437 million). Most of the 193 European airports currently facing insolvency are regional airports.

Regional airports and especially those dependent on international air connectivity and with few domestic routes, such as Cork Airport in Ireland, have seen their air connectivity decimated over the last 12 months. Cork Airport has gone from more than 50 routes with multiple weekly frequencies in 2020 to one single air route currently being operated with just three weekly frequencies. Overall, close to 7,000 air routes have been lost across the European airport network.

“The cliff-edge fall in air connectivity we have experienced at Cork Airport illustrates what’s happened to regional airports across Europe,” said Nial MacCarthy, Chairman of ACI Europe’s Regional Airports Forum and Managing Director of Cork Airport. “The vaccine rollout accompanied by vaccine and testing certificates should provide the conditions for airports – and the whole travel and tourism sector – to finally get back on our feet. But make no mistake, rebuilding our route networks will take a number of years – and the speed at which this will happen will directly impact the recovery of local economies and jobs in our communities. With every +10% gain in direct air connectivity yielding a 0.5% increase in GDP, the case for the EU to accelerate greater policy and financial support for airports and air connectivity is an economic no-brainer.”

MacCarthy highlighted the need to enable Air Connectivity Restart Schemes not just throughout 2021, but realistically for the next three years. These schemes, he said, will enable states to provide a direct per passenger subsidy to restart previously operated air routes or to support the launch of new ones and will play a vital role in supporting the revival of the sector and the local economies it serves.

Adding that beyond the recovery, regional airports will be facing a harsher reality moving forwards and that regulations will be needed to adapt and better support air connectivity, Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe stated: “Regional airports were already bracing with diseconomies of scale, demand seasonality, traffic volatility and the ability of airlines to exert dominance before the COVID-19 crisis. These long-standing issues of financial viability will only be magnified by the new economic landscape coming out of the pandemic. This means that we will need a review of policy and regulations across the board to better support regional air connectivity – structurally. Amongst these the ability to keep providing operating aid to regional airports beyond the current 2024 deadline under EU State aid rules will be crucial.”

Noting that Europe’s regional airports support 1.9 million jobs and facilitate 84.5 billion in GDP, Jankovec concluded: “The reality is that for most regions, there are not, and will not be, efficient alternatives to air connectivity in the future. EUROCONTROL estimates that even taking into account the expected development of high-speed rail networks, the potential for flight reductions is only 0.4%.”

Europe’s travel and tourism sectors call for clear restart plan in time for summer

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Formed of a group of more than 60 public and private  travel and tourism organisations, the Europe Tourism Manifesto Alliance has unveiled a series of joint recommendations for EU member states on how to relaunch travel and tourism in time for summer 2021.

At the heart of the EU’s plans is the development of an EU roadmap for restoring travel once countries emerge from national lockdowns to be developed and implemented in close cooperation with industry and social partners.

The joint recommendations laid out by the European Tourism Manifesto alliance were shared with the EU government ahead of the crucial discussions.

A statement from the alliance read: “Our goal is for Europe to return to its place as the leading tourist destination in the world – and a safe one. As EU vaccination programmes progress and protect the most vulnerable citizens, we must jointly prepare for the restart of travel. There is simply no time to lose – preparations on a common approach should begin now, in order to restore public confidence by the summer. Our recommendations detail a joint way forward towards restoring travel & tourism and freedom of movement on behalf of European citizens. We look forward to working with EU leaders to put this plan into action as soon as possible.”

A summary of the recommendations to EU Member States includes:

  • The creation of an EU Task Force to restore freedom of movement of people.
  • Coordination of travel restrictions
  • Testing: A harmonised EU framework for travel-related testing should encompass member states to ensure affordable testing, sufficient capacity, mutual recognition of tests between Member States and continuous work at international level for the mutual recognition of tests, as well as the validation of the use of antigen and other rapid tests for travel and tourism purposes.
  • E-Health certificates: EU coordination of national initiatives is urgently needed too avoid having 27 different certificates covering testing, vaccination and/ or immunity.
  • Coordinated reopening of tourism activities – once the health situation allows it, it is crucial to restart tourism and leisure activities alongside re-establishing freedom of movement for EU citizens.


Jasper County Airport pushes ahead with runway development

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The Jasper County Airport Authority (JCAA) in Indiana has awarded Woolpert with a Master Services Agreement to provide master planning, environmental assessment, land acquisition, aviation design, geospatial obstruction and aeronautical surveys, and construction management and inspection for the Rensselaer hub, which is located around 80 miles south of Chicago.

The Jasper County Airport is a publicly owned, general aviation airport that serves local and transiting aircraft via one paved runway and one grass runway.

Woolpert’s Senior Aviation Project Manager, Curtis Brown, said “The goal of the airport master plan is to determine the most viable, cost-effective improvements to increase the volume and versatility of the airport. Woolpert will evaluate realigning and extending the primary runway to accomplish this mission.”

Recognising Woolpert’s expertise in master planning, runway extension programmes, geospatial aviation expertise and cross-market capabilities, as well as the firm’s regional expertise, Jasper County Airport Manager, Ray Seif, said he’s looking forward to working with the robust team to increase traffic and revenue for the county. Woolpert has partnered with NGC, a long time JCAA consultant.

“We’re extremely thankful for (NGC Vice Presicent) Ken Ross and the folks at NGC for helping to get us where we are today and we’re excited to see how far we can go with Woolpert’s guidance,” he added.

WestJet temporarily suspends flights to four domestic hubs

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Operating at more than a 90% reduction year on year, Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is temporarily suspending operations to St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, London in Ontario and Lloydminster as well as Medicine Hat in Alberta. Services to the four domestic hubs will be suspended from 19 March to 24 June 2021.

Commenting on how the airline has continued to operate in the face of uncertainty throughout the pandemic as travel restrictions have caused demand to plummet, Ed Sims,  WestJet President and CEO said: “Unfortunately with new and increasingly restrictive policies, we are left once again, with no other option than to suspend services to these communities.”

In June 2020, the airline announced organisational changes through its airport transformation programme. As a result of the suspensions, WestJet will be working directly with newly established third-party service providers in St. John’s and London, Ontario, and directly with Pacific Coastal Airlines for affected WestJet Link operations in Lloydminster and Medicine Hat.

Flights between St. John’s and Halifax will be suspended as of 21 March, while service between London, Ontario and Toronto will cease on 22 March. WestJet Link service from Calgary to Lloydminster will end on 19 March and Calgary to Medicine Hat discontinued as of 21 March.

“Our ability to return to markets remains directly correlated to government policies and the prioritisation of a domestic travel programme,” continued Sims. “As we look ahead to contributing to the economic recovery of Canada, the relationship between testing and quarantine must evolve based on data and science.”

London Luton Airport welcomes increased connectivity with UK capital

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London Luton Airport (LLA) has welcomed a new rail service to central London with East Midlands Railway introducing a half hourly nonstop service between the UK capital and Luton Airport Parkway.

The new service, which will be part of the May timetable change, is the first significant step towards a separately-branded Luton Airport Express service. It will operate using electric trains that will run every 30 minutes between 6am and 10pm daily. Additional late night and early morning services will accommodate departures outside those peak hours.

LLA has long campaigned for an express rail service, supported by a range of national and local businesses including easyJet, in recognition that improved links bring to the local community and the national economy. With a reduction of up to 70,000 car journeys per year, the express rail link will also bring environmental benefits.

With ongoing travel restrictions, there are far fewer passengers using the airport than there would normally be. However, Alberto Martin, CEO of LlA pointed out that the airport needs “to take the opportunity to prepare for a return to air travel, and these changes do just that. It will be even easier for passengers to reach the airport as soon as it is safe to do so again, and I look forward to welcoming them back.”

Meanwhile, Will Rogers, Managing Director at East Midlands Railway revealed that a key part of the railway company’s enhancement of its services and timetable is the step change in service for Luton Airport.  “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the airport to further develop the service,” he said.

The additional connectivity from Luton Airport Parkway will be significantly enhanced by the construction of the Direct Air-Rail Transit (DART) service, which is nearing completion. The £225m investment sees the creation of a fixed link between the airport and the station, replacing the current bus service.

Marseille Airport

Passenger traffic in European airports drops to levels last seen in 1995

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Marseille Airport

Europe’s airport 2020 passenger traffic is back to 1995 levels, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s traffic report for the Full Year 2020. Compared to 2019, Europe’s airports lost 1.72 billion passengers in 2020, a decrease of -70.4%

The report includes all types of commercial flights to, from and within Europe (full service, low cost, regional, charter, full freight and others) and reveals that EU airports were significantly more impacted (-73% and 1.32 billion passengers lost) than those in the non-EU bloc (-61.9% and 400 million passengers lost). This is mainly due to the size and relative resilience of domestic markets primarily in Russia, but also Turkey, combined with less stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions compared to the EU market.

“With just 728 million passengers in 2020 compared to 2.4 billion passengers in the previous year, Europe’s airports were back to their traffic levels of 1995,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “No industry can on its own withstand such a shock. While some states have taken steps to financially support their airports, only €2.2 billion has so far been earmarked for that purpose in Europe. This is less than 8% of the revenues airports lost last year,” he continued.

Jankovec also highlighted that with further decreases in traffic this year and no firm idea of when the industry will recover in sight more needs to be done .“Helping out airports is essential to rebuild air connectivity and effectively support local and regional communities and tourism. It is also critical to restore airports’ investment capabilities for the future. Without more financial support, investments in decarbonisation, digitalisation and SESAR are at risk.”

The size of domestic markets alongside the extent of lockdowns and travel restrictions have resulted in limited variations in extreme passenger traffic losses within the EU while non-EU airports showed stronger signs of recovery than their EU counterparts in terms of passenger traffic in Q4 of 2020.

In Q4 airports in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Slovenia and Slovakia were still seeing passenger traffic below -90%, with German and UK airports following closely (-87.9% and -86.6%).  Meanwhile airports in Bulgaria (-69%), France (-78.1%), Greece (-72.1%) and Portugal (-77.2%) slightly outperformed the EU average.

Outside the EU, airports in the larger Russian (-44.2%) and Turkish (-60.7%) markets proved the most resilient in Q4, with those in Iceland (-96.2%) and Georgia (-94.8%) being the most impacted.

The report also shows that all segments of the airport industry were almost equally impacted in 2020 in terms of passenger traffic losses from the smaller regionals (-69.4%) to the top five European airports (-71.3%).

Across the European airport network, aircraft movements decreased by -58.6% in 2020 compared to 2019.