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Central, South Coast Airports Report More Than 90% Drop In Air Travel Due To Coronavirus Crisis

Santa Barbara Airport's main terminal

The coronavirus crisis has impacted many aspects of life on the Central and South Coasts. But perhaps one of the most dramatic effects is on air travel. Santa Barbara Airport came off the biggest year in its history last year, handling nearly a million passengers. 

In February of this year, 43,000 people used the airport. But in April, Deanna Zachrisson, with the airport, says they will have only about 1500 passengers.

The situation is just as bleak on the Central Coast. Kevin Buemen, the Airports Director overseeing San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, says they are only seeing 50 to 80 passengers a day.

One airline which served both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, Contour Airlines, has complwetely shut down service. Other carries like United, American, and Alaska have drastically reduced or modified schedules. But, air travel is considered essential service, so even though the region’s airport, and airports around the country are largely empty, they remain open.

Zachrisson, with Santa Barbara Airport, says it’s a tough situation. Commercial airport operations around the country aren’t funded by tax dollars. They have to be self-sustaining. As part of the federal government’s relief funding, the nation’s airports are getting $10 billion dollars to stay in business. San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport will get $20 million dollars, Santa Barbara Airport $9.5 million, and Santa Maria Airport $1.1 million. She says short term, the federal money will help keep the airport running, and its more than 60 employees working.

Zachrisson says realistically, they known that recovery will be a long, gradual process depending on the economy, and also how safe people feel it is to fly.

The timing for the region’s busiest airports couldn’t be much worse.   Both the Santa Barbara and San Luis Airports have long sought expensive state of the air new terminals. And, both airports had the most extensive airline service in their histories, with non-stop flights to cities like Las Vegas, Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago.

But, here’s a sign of the times. A 125 passenger jet arriving at Santa Barbara Airport the other day had just 17 people on board.

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