Iowa airports still drawing less than half the usual number of passengers

By: - December 15, 2020 2:03 pm

A new airport terminal in Des Moines is among the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s priorities. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

After years of setting records for traffic, the Des Moines airport is likely to end the year with less than half the usual number of passengers due to COVID-19. 

Even that is an improvement from April, when the airport’s passenger totals were down 95%

Kevin Foley is the executive director and general manager of Des Moines International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines International Airport)

The November traffic report showed the airport had recorded 1,192,056 passengers year-to-date, down from 2,675,455 in the same period last year. That’s a drop of 55.4%.

For the month, traffic was down 58%, even with the Thanksgiving holiday. Kevin Foley, airport executive director, said the final figure for 2020 is likely to be in the range of 55% or so below last year’s total.

Many airlines have reduced operations and Iowans have been encouraged to stay home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which had sickened 256,249 and killed 3,209 in Iowa as of Monday.

Thanksgiving saw a small bump in traffic at the Des Moines airport, but the number passengers still was half of what it was last year, Foley said. 

That loss shows up in revenues. Year-to-date through October, the Des Moines airport took in $5.9 million in parking revenue, down from $12.3 million during the same period last year. The airport scrapped one shuttle run and closed a couple of parking lots, saving $500,000 on parking-related expenses so far this year, Foley said. 

The $572,000 in restaurant revenue through the end of October compared with $1.2 million last year.

The airport is projecting it will end 2021 with 55% of pre-pandemic passenger traffic, and it could be 2024 before a full recovery, Foley said. 

Pam Hinman, spokeswoman for the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, said passenger traffic is down about 53% for the year and is expected to stay at that level through December. Some days during the Thanksgiving holiday brought 1,200 passengers, but last year’s traffic was double that or more, Hinman said. Some days this Thanksgiving weekend drew just 900 passengers.

In April, passenger counts were down 97% at the Cedar Rapids airport, which still has part of the terminal closed. On the plus side, cargo is up 6% and UPS is expanding its facility at the airport, Hinman said. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.