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Security Costs Hurts Small Airports


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Boulder, Colo. (AP by Michelle Locke)–The one-two punch of the terrorist attacks on air travel _ more security costs and fewer flights _ is taking a toll on the nation’s smaller airports.

From the old mining town of Redding in California to Lynchburg in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, airport managers are trimming budgets and juggling flight schedules as they try to survive in the post-Sept. 11 aviation world.

“You can see across our whole economy, businesses, including airlines, are cutting back,” said Robert O’Brien, aviation director at Springfield’s Capital Airport in Illinois. For small airports, “this could be their death knell.”

Flights have been curtailed, traffic has dropped and parking lots have closed. The American Association of Airport Executives, a lobbying group based in Virginia, is pushing for a $1 billion package to defray extra security costs brought on by the attacks.

“We sometimes refer to it as an economic tsunami. There was no warning, costs shot up as revenues fell off a cliff,” said association spokeswoman Erin Travis.

The shock wave may have hit hardest at small regional airports that already had fewer flights and leaner profit margins. The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on Monday did little to improve the economic picture.

“We’re on a very fine line in terms of our budget anyway,” said Rod Dinger, manager of the Redding Municipal Airport, which lost two of its nine daily flights.

In Virginia, the Lynchburg Regional Airport lost more than half its daily departures after Sept. 11, including five United Express flights to Washington Dulles International Airport.

“We’ve taken a real hit,” said airport manager Mark Courtney, who expects losses of $350,000 this year.

To make matters worse, regional airports _ like their bigger brothers _ are paying thousands of dollars per day for increased security and losing thousands more from concessions and other auxiliary businesses.

Many have lost parking spaces to a new rule forbidding parking within 300 feet of a terminal, a serious blow to smaller airports, which use close-in parking as a revenue-raiser and selling point.

“We’ve prided ourselves in our parking,” said Patti Miller, marketing director for the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, which has seen its short-term parking lot put off-limits by the new rule.

Airports can get a waiver to the new parking rule, generally if they agree to have each car searched or put up blast-resistant walls, both of which are very expensive.

And when airports struggle, the businesses and towns depending on them falter, too.

In Redding, manager Rod Dinger expects the airport will weather the storm but worries about “the mom and pop that are running our gift shop. They used some of their savings to keep the business going.”

Flight schools and other auxiliary airport business also have reported huge losses due to shutdowns and no-fly rules.

Ahart Aviation, a Livermore-based flight school, was shut down twice due to a prohibition on flying within 10 miles of a nuclear facility, in their case the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory.

Manager Lysa Wollard said the company lost about $70,000. The ban was lifted this week, although training flights still face restrictions within 30 miles of large cities.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is sponsoring a bill that would provide small business grants and loans to aviation businesses, such as flight schools and crop dusting businesses, that incurred losses as a direct result of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

The bill doesn’t have a dollar figure on it right now because “it’s hard to get a grasp on just how large a knock these people have taken,” said Joe Terrana, spokesman for Shuster.

“We do know that they were grounded longer than the national airlines were and we do know that the reserves that these mom and pops work with are far lesss than a national airline,” he said.

Still, Austin Wiswell, head of the California Transportation Department’s aeronautics division, predicted air traffic will return.

“You can’t live without it. It’s just too embedded in the way we do things,” he said. “Aviation as a means of travel is so inextricably linked to the economy that it’s going to come back. It’s just going to come back in a slightly different form than we had before.”

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press