PROVO — While the Provo Airport’s commercial flights are down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, operations continue, including the construction of a new terminal that will significantly expand the airport’s capacity.
“We are still open, we’re still operating,” said airport manager Steve Gleason. “There are bright spots, slow spots, but we are going to keep going and weather this storm like everybody else.”
Like all airports though, Gleason said, there’s been some consolidation and a significant drop in commercial flights.
The airport has about 16 to 19 flights on average during a normal week, but for the last month that dropped to about three or four, though numbers have risen slightly to at least four as of this past week. Airlines are no longer flying to Tucson, Arizona or Los Angeles — two of the three locations the airport flies to — and are just going to Mesa, Arizona.
Airport employees have implemented various changes to operations in order to minimize potential spread of the virus, like only allowing ticketed passengers into the terminal. Gleason said workers are practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Each time a flight arrives at the airport, someone will sweep through the terminal wiping everything down with an alcohol solution to sterilize surfaces. Posters reminding passengers to social distance are also plastered around the airport.
The federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is awarding roughly $10 billion to commercial and general aviation airports across the U.S. as airlines have taken a big hit from COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and travel restrictions. Airlines received approximately $58 billion from the overall package.
The Provo Airport’s share is about $1.4 million, according to Gleason. Salt Lake City’s airport is receiving about $82.4 million in economic relief.
“We are obviously not the size of Salt Lake and do not intend to ever try and get to be that size, so it’s perfectly logical with our five employees,” Gleason said. “That’s a very different situation than what they are dealing with.”
Gleason said that while traffic has certainly slowed, it’s not all bad news and there are a “couple of bright spots.”
Flight school operating at the airport is going well, Gleason said. Students are still flying and are enjoying the additional airspace.
Duncan Aviation, an aircraft service provider that supports aviation needs of government, businesses and others, leases space from the airport. According to Gleason, they are doing well because people are taking advantage of the downtime to bring their jets in to get repairs and upgrades.
Duncan Aviation Chief Operating Officer Bill Prochazka said business has “softened with the COVID-19 situation,” but not in the way that one might expect.
“While business aircraft overall flying hours are down, a few are actually flying more than ever through this pandemic. Even those who are not flying as much right now know that they will have significant catch-up travel after this passes,” he said. “In that light, they are moving projects forward and doing maintenance and refurbishment projects or upgrades right now while the aircraft can be down.”
Prochazka said the business has heard from many who expect flights “to ramp up significantly once the country and world” reopen.
“As we navigate these uncertain times, we are confident that our best days lie ahead of us,” he said.
Meanwhile, construction on the airport’s second terminal is also “full steam ahead,” according to Gleason. Operations have not stalled nor slowed because of COVID-19 in any part.
Gleason said the facility is expanding from a one-gate, one-terminal operation into two terminals with four gates, which will enable the airport to add additional destinations and have a greater frequency of flights.
The larger terminal, which will be designed with families and groups in mind, will also help alleviate some of the traffic on I-15 bound for Salt Lake City International Airport, Gleason said. The city broke ground on the project Nov. 6 in a ceremony attended by Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
There, Cox praised the project, saying it “changes everything” because it will offer more travel options for those living in Utah County and rural areas.
With expenses for a ramp, parking and other related infrastructure, the cost for the terminal building comes to about $40 million. Gleason said the project will be completed in about two years.