Tampa Bay airports poised to receive millions in coronavirus stimulus aid

After getting $81 million in the spring, Tampa International Airport should get a smaller, but still substantial, grant.
Signs for social distancing are spread throughout a waiting area at Tampa International Airport's airside E terminal on July 2.
Signs for social distancing are spread throughout a waiting area at Tampa International Airport's airside E terminal on July 2. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 31, 2020

Tampa International Airport and other local air facilities should get a little wind beneath their wings as a result of the government’s latest $900 billion coronavirus relief and stimulus package.

The new package will grant airports nationwide $2 billion in U.S. Department of the Treasury grants that can be used for anything from staffing to sanitization to paying down debt.

The package includes at least $200 million for concessionaire and tenant rent relief, which has been a big issue at major air hubs. More than a dozen companies doing business around Tampa International Airport — from carriers to concessionaires to rental agencies — have laid off or furloughed more than 1,000 workers.

Related: 5 ways the coronavirus stimulus bill affects Florida

The new money comes months after the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act provided $10 billion to airports hobbled by the pandemic. Tampa International Airport received $81.2 million, spending more than half of that to offset debt and losses.

“Just as the CARES Act greatly helped us and our industry partners survive the immense loss of business in 2020, this will also help us stay current on debt payments, retain staff and maintain operations as we look forward to more recovery in 2021,” said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

Related: Tampa airport extends on-site coronavirus testing program

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which operates the airport, doesn’t know how much it will get this time around, Nipps said, since the new formula for relief distribution has not yet been set.

Other regional airports that received relief money in the spring includeSarasota-Bradenton International ($23.3 million), St. Pete-Clearwater International ($8.7 million), Peter O. Knight ($69,000), Tampa Executive ($69,000), Zephyrhills Municipal ($69,000), Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional ($69,000), Clearwater Air Park ($30,000) and Albert Whitted ($30,000).

St. Pete-Clearwater spokeswoman Michele Routh said the airport spent its relief money on payroll.

“We don’t have estimate for the next round as of yet and have not made plans for its use until we have more information,” she said.

The package requires most airports to retain at least 90 percent of their staffing level from March 2020, adjusted for retirements and voluntary separations, through Feb. 15. Tampa International offered certain employees buyouts this fall, hoping to cut costs by $2.5 million.

Related: Tampa airport planning staff buyouts, 'three to four years' for recovery

The law also pledges to apportion 2022 and 2023 Department of Transportation funding to airports based on passenger counts from 2018 or 2019, whichever is higher, rather than 2020.

Air carriers and contractors will also see money from the new package. Carriers will receive $15 billion to retain employees through at least March 31; Airline contractors, such as ticketing and catering workers, will receive $1 billion. Those payments are expected to go through next week.