Richmond airport revenue takes a hit during COVID-19 pandemic

Local News

Travelers crowd the TSA checkpoint at the Richmond International Airport. (Photo: Sabrina Shutters)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Revenue at Richmond International Airport (RIC) dropped by more than 20% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Capital Region Airport Commission Marketing and Air Service Development Director Troy Bell, closing the gap between how much money the airport brought in and how much it had to spend.

According to data presented to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors at its July 28 meeting, the number of travelers being screened at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints in April of 2020 fell to a record low. Bell estimated that around that time, there were only about 250 passengers going through the airport on a daily basis.

However, Bell said that the amount of cargo being transported by planes out of RIC reached an all-time high during the pandemic.

“We have just reported 180 million pounds of cargo at the airport, and to put that in perspective, we had never previously, during a fiscal year, done more than 150 million,” Bell said. “It goes back to also we welcomed a new airline here. That would be Amazon. They started off with two flights a day, June a year ago. They’re up to three now. Everybody’s competing a little bit harder. Of course, you can’t look at business news without seeing the rise of e-commerce, and we’ve certainly benefited from that.”

But even with the increased shipping of commercial items and essential supplies, RIC reported a revenue of $44.4 million in FY2020, compared with a revenue of $53.1 million in FY2019. According to data presented before the Hanover County Board of Supervisors, the projected FY2021 revenue is even less, at $32.6 million.

“Our revenue dropped more than 20%. Our expenses, however, didn’t,” Bell said. “The gap, the coverage in terms of expenses and revenue was pretty narrow for us, which had implications with the bonds that we sell and coverage ratios.”

The data showed that the projected expenses for FY2021 were the lowest they have been since at least FY2017: $21 million.

“Fiscal Year ’21, the impact continues,” Bell said. “We cut everywhere we could cut and we still cost about $21 million. That’s the minimum, we think, it takes to run the airport.”

However, Bell said that RIC is starting to recover, although he is being “cautiously optimistic” amid new concerns surrounding the Delta variant. Predictions show that the airport could bring in approximately $42.9 million in FY2022 on an operating budget of $27.2 million.

“In terms of a recovery, it does feel like a recovery,” Bell said. “But we’re not completely there yet. We’ve got some work to do.”

In terms of the number of passengers traveling through RIC, Bell said that April of 2021 was the first month where passenger numbers were are least half of the way back to pre-COVID-19 levels. In June, travel continued to increase, with a reported return of 83% of RIC’s pre-pandemic passenger volume, leading to more screenings at TSA checkpoints.

“We’re busy. There’s still pandemic protocols. TSA tells us that they have the staffing they need to conduct the job, and I’ll tell you that what we see, though, at times, are some lines, especially early in the morning,” Bell said. “So don’t cut it close. Please, don’t cut it close.”

Bell recommended that travelers get checked in for their flight at the airport at least 90 minutes before their scheduled departure time, and that they should be at their departure gate no later than 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

RIC travelers can also expect coronavirus-related health requirements and procedures to stay in place for the time being.

“Even though things like the executive orders are no longer and the CDC has made recommendations and changed recommendations and so much more of our population is now vaccinated, we’re paying more attention than ever to making sure that we are running a clean facility,” Bell said. “If you are on premises, any terminal of the building, on board an aircraft, you will still be required to wear a mask for use of those facilities.”

Bell said that he expects advanced cleaning measures and air filtration systems to continue, even after the pandemic.

Moving forward, he announced that RIC has several projects in the works, including a facility renovation to allow for the expansion of international travel options out of Richmond.

“We’d like to get up into Canada again. We think that there are some opportunities into the Caribbean, and then, as new aircrafts come on, we think that there are also potentially some transatlantic opportunities,” Bell said. “We need to have the facility to be able to facilitate that type of operation.”

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