Pandemic decimates air travel in Dayton and beyond

American Eagle jets operated by American Airlines at the Dayton International Airport on Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019.
American Eagle jets operated by American Airlines at the Dayton International Airport on Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019.

The latest passenger numbers for Dayton International Airport are dismal, pushed down as the COVID-19 outbreak decimated air travel across the nation and the world.

Year-to-date passenger enplanements at the Dayton airport reached 169,954 as of May 2020, the most recent numbers made available.

That’s a 52.7% drop from the 359,117 passenger enplanements as of May 2019.

In the month of May, the Dayton airport saw 9,587 passenger enplanements — down 88.3% from 81,699 in May 2019.

But the Dayton airport is seeing an “uptick” in enplanements and parking, Gilbert Turner, Dayton interim aviation director, said Monday.

“As demand increases and the public confidence returns, airlines are beginning to increase capacity and restore service to Dayton, he added.

Minneapolis−St. Paul International Airport, Denver International and LaGuardia in New York are the only three city “pairs” or connections to Dayton that have not been restored as of Monday, Turner said.

“We look forward to the return of all previous air service and more, when the public is ready to resume air travel,” he said.

American Airlines Systems flights — including PSA, Skywest, Envoy and Republic — were down nearly 49% year-to-date at the Dayton airport, as of May. Delta Air was down 57% so far this year, and United Airlines was down nearly 56%.

The year had started a bit stronger in Dayton before the pandemic began affecting travel. February passenger numbers (62,688) were up 2.2 percent compared to February 2019 (61,331).

Cargo tonnage is also down, but it has not been as dramatically affected as passenger travel. Air cargo at the Dayton airport was recorded as a little over 2,822 tons year-to-date as of May 2020. That’s down 17.5 percent from the nearly 3,422 tons recorded at the same point last year.

In the month of May alone, cargo tons were put at 500.35, down 34.6% from the 765.42 tons recorded in May last year.

COVID-19 has dramatically dampened air travel across the nation and the world. Typically in April and May, about 2.4 million people are air travel passengers each day.

For the week that ended April 17, 2020, the count was only 95,161 per day, the New York Times reported. For the week ended May 17, the count was 212,580 per day, the Times said.

Independence Day weekend saw a slight bump in the number of Americans boarding airplanes. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.9 million people in this past weekend nationally.

Dayton airport employees have been asked to consider leaving the city’s employment for at least three years.

“In an effort to reduce the airport’s personnel expenses, the city of Dayton offered airport employees an opportunity to participate in a voluntary separation program,” Turner said in April.

If enough airport employees accept the incentives, layoffs at the airport may not be necessary, Turner said at that time.

At the time, the airport had 122 employees. The goal was to cut the number of airport employees down to about 86 employees.

On Monday, Turner said he would speak with Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein before discussing how many employees have accepted separation incentives.

“Experts estimate it could take as long as 30 months to fully recover just to 2019 levels,” Turner said in April. “Taking actions now to reduce expenses will ensure the Dayton Airport can remain financially stable for future recovery and growth.”

Major U.S. airlines have required travelers to wear masks in flight and have threatened to ban customers who refuse, with some exceptions for medical reasons.

Some airlines have limited the number of seats they sell on flights to distance travelers from each other on planes.