LVIA passenger traffic falls 42% from COVID-19 travel restrictions

Stacy Wescoe//April 21, 2020

LVIA passenger traffic falls 42% from COVID-19 travel restrictions

Stacy Wescoe//April 21, 2020

Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. PHOTO/FILE –

As expected, passenger traffic at Lehigh Valley International Airport dropped dramatically in March, breaking a 29-month streak of month-over-month growth at the airport.

Thomas Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority, said the nearly 42 percent drop in passenger traffic was reflective of what most airports of LVIA’s size were experiencing across the country as the nation limited non-essential travel and implemented social distancing protocol to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Certainly, it’s not a surprise to see the numbers here. I hate to say it, but we’re about average. This is pretty consistent with what we all saw.”

Passenger traffic was 44,478 for March 2020 as compared to 75,612 in March of 2019.

Stoudt said most of the drop off in traffic was in the second two weeks of the month, but traffic had already begun to decline earlier in the month after a strong February.

Stoudt said the airport, in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, was anticipating the downturn and had been in talks since January on what they should expect. He said staff is also keeping an eye out for what kinds of passenger traffic the airport can expect for the next few months.

“With restrictions and social distancing, this is foreshadowing what is coming in April and certainly May,” Stoudt said.

By looking at the number of people coming through the gates, he is already anticipating the passenger traffic decrease to double from March into April, and expects decreased traffic through at least June. United Airlines has already informed the airport that it would be operating on a reduced schedule in June.

“People are listening. They’re not flying unless essential travel is included,” Stoudt said. “It sounds odd, but it’s encouraging that people are doing the right thing and staying home and staying safe.”

But with less passenger traffic comes less revenue. Stoudt said the authority has had to cut operating expenses, and postponed some non-critical infrastructure work and has opted to finance rather than pay cash for other projects it had planned.

The authority has not furloughed any staff so far, he said, noting that many operations at the airport are safety-related and must be performed regardless of the number of flights. There have been some furloughs of roughly 60 staff who volunteered to take leave or needed to stay home during the crisis.

The authority employs about 280.

The authority anticipates about $6.2 million in relief from the federal government through the CARES Act for COVID-19 related costs and losses. Some of that money will pay for planned infrastructure projects, and provide about a two-month bridge of revenue that will help with payroll, maintenance, operational expenses and debt service.

Meanwhile there is a bright spot for the authority. While passenger traffic is up, cargo traffic remains strong.

“And I think that will continue to remain strong,” Stoudt said.

The pandemic has led to a sharp uptick in online ordering, a consumer habits that was already trending upward, and airline cargo has been trending higher as a result.

Stoudt said he knows there are some difficult times ahead at the airport, but he said the authority has seen tough times before and he expect to weather this tough time as well.

“We know how to tighten our belts,” he said.