TARGET 8: CARES Act disproportionately funds Missouri's smaller airports

1 month 2 days 9 hours ago Monday, April 27 2020 Apr 27, 2020 Monday, April 27, 2020 5:55:00 PM CDT April 27, 2020 in News
By: Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - The Cape Girardeau Regional Airport received a grant worth almost $17.5 million from the CARES Act. That amount is more than 10 times their operating budget for this year. 

The small airport, who served only 9,160 passengers in 2018, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, is receiving around $1,900 per passenger. The Columbia Regional Airport is receiving around $150 per passenger. It received around $1 million dollars more than the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, but receives more than 10,000 passengers a month. 

The funding disparities are more considerable at some of the state's larger airports.  Kansas City International Airport received about $7 per passenger. St. Louis Lambert International Airport received about $8 per passenger.

Cape Girardeau isn't the only airport who received more funds per passenger than larger airports. Mason City Municipal Airport in Iowa received almost $17.5 million, but only served around 8,000 passengers in 2018. Devil's Lake Regional Airport in North Dakota received almost $17 million, while serving under 7,000 passengers in 2018. 

Airport struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic

Airports across the country are seeing less passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Columbia Regional Airport saw around a 42% decrease in passengers during March 2020 compared to last year.

The previous two months saw passenger increases around 20% at the Columbia Regional Airport. These grants are designed to help airports, like Columbia Regional, who are seeing less business due to COVID-19. 

Steve Sapp, spokesperson for the city of Columbia, said the city received enough money to cover the airport's operational costs for up to 4 years.

He said the city is pleased with the funds going to Columbia Regional Airport.

"We know in these times money is something that everyone is having to look at," Sapp said. "So we're appreciative what the CARES act has done not just for our airport but airports across the country."

He said the remaining funds can be used for development costs, possibly even the new terminal at Columbia Regional Airport.

"We understand that many things are possible, so that's one thing we want to learn more about and talk more about, because if we can use those funds, of course, for the terminal building then that can shift the burden of other revenue sources we have," Sapp said. "At this point, we're still in that discovery phase and we'll learn more in the next few weeks with where those funds can be applied to."

He said the city expects to receive more guidelines for the stimulus in the upcoming weeks.  

New Columbia Regional Airport Terminal

In the meantime, the city is moving ahead with their plans to build a new terminal at the Columbia Regional Airport, which has revealed three proposed designs for the new airport terminal.

The first debt payment for the airport, according to a council memo, will be approximately $470,000, plus interest, with the first payment due in 2021.

The Columbia City Council authorized the city to sell bonds to help fund the project last Monday. Regions Capital Advantage, INC has agreed to buy the bonds at an interest rate of 1.9%.

The city will pay for the project from a 1% tax increase on lodging, taxes at motels and hotels and revenue from passenger facility charges passed by voters in August 2016. 

How CARES Act money was directed

Across the county, Commercial Service Airports received at least $7.4 billion of the $10 billion in stimulus funds from the CARES Act directed to airports. Those funds were divided based on a funding formula from the Federal Aviation Administration. The formula took into consideration each the number of passengers during 2018, debt service and cash reserves for each airport. 

Mark Sixel, a consultant for small airports across the country, said he doesn't know the reason for the money being disproportionately spread, but believes it was a problem with their Federal Aviation Administration's funding formula. 

"The only thing I can come up with is they were in a big hurry,' he said. "They've got 3,200 airports they're trying to get this grant money out to, the Congress has told them 'please get this money out as quickly as possible', people are waiting on paychecks. We got to get this money out into the economy to get these things moving, so rush as fast as you can'."

TARGET 8 investigators reached out to the FAA, but the department did not respond. 

Missouri airports received a total of $152.5 million in funding from the CARES Act, which put it into the top 20 states to receive funding.

California's airports received $1.1 billion - the most money from the federal government. Delaware's airports, which are getting the lowest amount of funds, saw only $257,000.

Here is a full map showing all Missouri airports who received funds from the CARES Act.

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