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Billings airport preparing for lost flights amid coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 4:18 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 16:19:09-04

As the nation's top airlines announce reductions and sweeping changes to their future flight schedules, Billings Logan International Airport is considering similar actions.

Kevin Ploehn, the airport's director of aviation and transit, said Wednesday afternoon that the coronavirus precautions and impacts have landed.

Ploehn said flights across the board have not yet been canceled, but they are taking off and landing only about 20 to 30% full. Those travelers are taking a mix of work-related and vacation flights.

"A lot of younger people," said Ploehn. "Some people are worried. Some aren't."

The number of reported coronavirus cases have continued to rise nationwide, with 7,769 cases in the United States on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Ten cases have been reported in Montana as of Wednesday, including two in Yellowstone County.

Ploehn says no flights have been canceled as of Wednesday, but the airlines are revamping flight schedules as of April 1. So passengers with flights after that date will likely be called in the coming days to rebook.

Travelers are likely to see the number of flights cuts 20 to 25 percent next month and 50 percent in June, Ploehn said.

As for the impact on the Billings airport, the last 10 days have not been good. Ploehn and his team are looking at cutting some planned smaller projects.

He says nearly one-third of the airport's yearly revenue- about $4 million- comes from parking and car rentals, and they've fallen by 50 percent. And landing fees will potentially be cut in half.

The airport takes in about $11 million a year in revenue, according to Ploehn.

The airport is still moving forward with its $55 million terminal expansion project, which broke ground last September, Ploehn said.

After numbers were up 10% in January and February over last year, Ploehn says this hurts, but for the "short term we are not panicking, but if this lasts six months to a year it will be a challenge, but we'll make it work."