Pandemic taking financial toll on small airports like Hanford

HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- Look up in Hanford these days, and you'll see there are far fewer planes flying overhead.

The slowdown is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

And it's hurting general aviation airports like Hanford.

"We're a lagging indicator and it is down," Hanford Airport Manager Bob Loogman said. "In the very beginning when it first started I didn't see a whole lot of reduction in flights or services. In the later months it has been."

According to a letter sent to congress last month, general aviation operations are down more than 70% across the country.

At the Hanford Airport, Loogman has also seen a large reduction in flights taking off and touching down.

People aren't flying for pleasure as often.

And as virtual options expand, businesses are choosing not to fly for in-person meetings.

Fuel sales are down, and some tenants have pulled their planes from their rented spaces.

There's also a loss to the local economy.

"You know on a big corporate jet, they'll be a pilot and a co-pilot and a flight attendant, and they'll go to the local hotel and eat at the eating establishments," Loogman said. "So those dollars that they're here for the day, or however long they are, won't be there."

"It's a big piece of infrastructure that's critical to rural communities and their livelihoods and I think like every other sector in the pandemic, there's been a lot of loss," said Main Street Project Senior Advisor Niel Ritchie.

Niel Ritchie says the general aviation industry also supports critical services such as emergency response and agriculture.

In some areas, it's the only way to travel.

It's why the Main Street Project, a non-profit, and 15 other organizations are pushing Congress to suspend fuel taxes paid by non-commercial operators.

"The commercial airlines have already gotten their relief from fuel taxes and from passenger taxes, and so in the realm of aviation, this is about bringing in some equity to it and providing the relief directly where small communities need it."
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