SANTA BARBARA, CA - 4/29/2020
Along with many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact to the U.S. aviation industry, including airlines and airports. Like other airports, Santa Barbara Airport has lost 96% of its passengers since mid-March. Despite the dramatic loss of passengers, planes have still been flying for necessary travel and the Airport cannot close. The recent CARES Act assures that both airlines and airports remain operational, both during and after the pandemic.
Santa Barbara Airport is not funded by any local, regional or state tax dollars. Rather, the Airport is required by federal law to be self-sustaining and generate its own revenues from passengers and businesses who use the airport. Nearly 60% of SBA's total revenues are generated when people come to the airport and fly. Those revenues pay for the costs of operating and maintaining the terminal, airfield runways and taxiways, airport law enforcement, fire and rescue and much more. In 2019, Santa Barbara Airport was used by nearly 1 million arriving and departing passengers.
Revenues that come from the passenger fee on every ticket, as well as revenues from rental cars, restaurant visits and other purchases have dried up. And with few passengers, the Airport parking lot is virtually empty. Without help, Santa Barbara Airport is facing a multi-million dollar budget gap. Thankfully, the Airport has been awarded a federal $9.5 million grant to sustain operations until passengers return.
"The money we make from airlines and passengers assures that we can do everything from keeping the airfield lights on, mowing the grass around the runways, to making sure that every person who comes or goes from SBA does so safely," explains the Airport's director, Henry Thompson. "We are grateful for the grant, because unlike the number of passengers, our costs to operate do not fluctuate much."
After another calamitous event, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Congress passed financial relief for airlines, while airports had to make it on their own. This time, Congress recognized that leaving airports without any means of keeping the system going was not a reasonable option. The Act contained nearly $10 billion in funding for the nation's hundreds of commercial airports, including in California.
Congress was clear that the purpose of the funding is to save essential airport jobs and prevent airports from defaulting on their facility loans. Santa Barbara Airport plans to use the $9.5 million grant for exactly this purpose. Air travel is not anticipated to fully rebound from the pandemic for as much as a year or more, so nearly $5 million dollars will be earmarked to pay for the Airport's facility loans. The remainder will assure continued airport maintenance and secure least 90% of essential airport jobs.