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As pandemic-weary travelers begin returning to the skies en masse, South Florida airports received a significant financial boost to help accommodate the increased air travel and return airports to pre-COVID levels.
More than $310 million was doled out to South Florida’s three major airports — Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Palm Beach International Airport.
Part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden, the infusion is designed to keep airline workers employed and ensure necessary construction projects are kept on track.
Miami International Airport got $160 million; Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport got $125 million; and Palm Beach International Airport got $27 million. Additionally, smaller county-run airports in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach also will receive funding.
The money is critical for airports to return to high operational levels, said Laura Beebe, director of Palm Beach International Airport.
“Without it, it would’ve been catastrophic for airports across the United States,” Beebe said. “Airports have lost billions of dollars in revenue. This would’ve severely impacted our reserves, our ability to recover, our ability to keep our facilities open.”
Among the changes made to accommodate the decrease in revenue, Beebe said the airport was forced to leave vacant positions unfilled and stopped providing shuttle service.
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Airports across the country were hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic as safety concerns led to a drastic decrease in air travel, leading airports to cut back on staffing and flights.
But with more and more people being vaccinated, air travel is beginning to significantly increase and is moving toward pre-pandemic levels. Nearly 14 million travelers passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints from June 21-27, up from 4 million during the same time frame last year. The 2021 number is about 76% of the passengers from the same week in 2019.
A spokeswoman for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport said more than $15 million of the $125 million will be allocated for concession relief. The remaining $110 million will be designated for capital improvement projects at the airport. Capital improvement projects cover include construction on facilities such terminals and runways.
Miami International Airport will use the money for payroll, utilities and debt service expenses, a spokesman said. Palm Beach International Airport has similar plans, Beebe said.
Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International are among the largest airports in the country, both ranking in the top 20. Miami International ranked 15th in 2019, servicing over 21.4 million passengers, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood ranked 19th, recording over 18 million travelers. Palm Beach International was 53rd with over 3.4 million passengers.
Overall, the FAA awarded more than $8 billion in funding to airports across the country. For airports to receive funding, they have to employ at least 90% of their pre-pandemic employees. Orlando and Tampa International were two of the other biggest recipients in Florida, with Orlando receiving $171 million and Tampa $79 million.