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Tampa International Airport to get $81 million in coronavirus aid

The pandemic has reduced business at the airport 90 to 95 percent, from as many as 80,000 passengers a day for this time of year to 3,000.

Tampa International Airport will receive $81 million and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport $8.7 million in federal relief grants announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Both airports saw passenger traffic evaporate during spring break, typically the busiest time of the year, because of the coronavirus.

Business at Tampa International is down across the board 90 to 95 percent, airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. Typically, the airport would see 550 arriving flights and up to 80,000 passengers per day during spring break.

Now it gets fewer than 200 commercial arrivals per day and just 3,000 daily passengers, and revenues have dropped accordingly. Across the bay, the number of flights at St. Pete-Clearwater International is down by more than three-quarters.

Related: Coronavirus pandemic hits travel to and from the Tampa Bay area on two different fronts

“This historic grant funding will provide much-needed relief to help mitigate the unprecedented and dramatic drop in business we’ve experienced and will ensure we’re able to recover and resume operations when that business returns,” Tampa International chief executive officer Joe Lopano said in a statement.

The airport and Hillsborough County’s three general aviation airports, which will receive much smaller grants, “are critical economic drivers for the communities they serve,” Lopano said.

The federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus aid package includes $10 billion for airports nationwide, with $896 million going to 100 airports around Florida.

Airports can use the grants for capital improvement projects, operating expenses, payroll, utilities and debt payments. The relief legislation, known as the CARES Act, also allows airports to use the grants to fully fund certain airport improvement projects that normally require a local match.

At St. Pete-Clearwater International, passenger traffic dropped 38 percent in March compared with the same month last year, but that understates the impact since the first flight was not cancelled until mid-March.

In the three weeks that ended Sunday, 67 percent of flights at the airport were cancelled the first week, 73 percent the second week and 77 percent last week.

“Grant funding will be used to cover payroll expenses to keep all 59 full-time St. Pete-Clearwater Int’l Airport employees employed, as intended under the CARES Act provisions,” airport spokeswoman Michele Routh said in an email.

The Federal Aviation Administration will use a streamlined application and grant-agreement process to make the money available to airports “immediately” as soon as the airports complete a grant agreement, according to the Department of Transportation.

Other Tampa Bay area airports receiving the grants are:

• Albert Whitted Airport, St. Petersburg, $30,000.

• Clearwater Airpark, $30,000.

• Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands in Tampa, $69,000.

• Tampa Executive Airport, near interstates 4 and 75 east of Tampa, $69,000.

• Plant City Airport, $30,000.

• Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, $69,000.

• Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, $69,000.

Times staff writer Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.

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