Republic Airport announced figures at its most recent commission meeting that underscore how deeply the recession is affecting the regional airport. At its latest Republic Airport Commission meeting on March 9, Republic Airport announced a decrease in the number of jets arriving and departing due to the economy.
The number of flights has decreased significantly from last year to this year with a total loss in operations from 14,436 in November/December 2007 to 9,511 in November/December 2008 (its most recent figures) or an overall decrease of 4,925 operations. In turn, landing fees and fuel sales have dropped since jet aircraft traffic is lower. Airport complaints have dropped as well from 27 in November 2007 to 13 in November 2008.
"We've lost nearly 5,000 total operations," reported Shelley LaRose-Arken, airport manager, at the meeting. "The largest decrease is from our jet operations in which we've lost nearly one-third (from 923 a year ago to 607 today) or 20 percent in our fiscal year. The only area where we have shown an increase is in our passengers to Atlantic City, which grew from 2,000 last year to nearly 2,500 passengers this year on charter flights."
While the airport has been able to stem some of the losses by diversifying into rental property and tie-down revenue, the effects are being felt by on-site aviation firms, and local community businesses such as hotels, restaurants, fuel firms, and others who rely on Republic for business. SheltAir Aviation Services, which is based on Republic's property, has posted a 47 percent decrease in activity from last year to this year, says Leonel Rivera, general manager. "We are absolutely being affected by the recession," he says. "Corporate flight departments are downsizing and sending their employees on commercial aircraft. Times have changed; they are watching their expenses much more closely. Plus, we've received a bad rap from Congress and the auto manufacturers who flew to Washington, DC by private jet."
Rivera reports that there is the possibility of lay-offs if the economy does not turn around. "We've cut back hours on our employees and asked them to take voluntary leave-of-absences. We've also cut back on our janitorial services, our Long Island fuel vendor, and even our coffee service. We're hoping that upcoming events in the area, like the U.S. Open Golf tournament and Memorial Day air show, will supply a much-needed boost to the economy."
The airport has already begun to work with tournament officials in anticipation of the upcoming USGA U.S. Open Golf tournament scheduled to be played June 18-21, 2009 in Bethpage. The airport is in discussions with tournament officials about extra flights landing at Republic but Airport Director Michael Geiger says he does not predict a lot of extra flight traffic due to the tournament.
In other news, the airport announced that it will host a hurricane preparedness event in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's (NOAA) Hurricane Hunter P3 aircraft will take part on May 5. The jet, which can fly high, fast and far with a range of 4,000 nautical miles and a cruising altitude of 45,000 ft., paints a detailed picture of weather systems in the upper atmosphere surrounding developing hurricanes. The community, school groups, and other interested visitors can meet the crew and see the interior of this aircraft that flies directly into hurricanes to gather scientific information. Actual viewing times will be determined soon; please check back with the airport.
The annual Bethpage Credit Union Air Show will take place on May 23-24 in which the United States Air Force Thunderbirds team, celebrating their 56th season, and the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Canadian Snowbirds, will participate and be headquartered at Republic Airport. The latter's show team flies 11 CT-114 Tutors - nine for aerobatic performances, including two solo aircraft, and two as spares, flown by the team coordinators. The Thunderbirds will be flying Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 aircraft.