The U.S. Department of Transportation last week issued the latest round of annual airport safety and infrastructure grants, with $12.2 million landing at Dulles Airport to help with runway reconstruction.
The grant is part of a longstanding FAA program that helps airports—big and small—across the country with construction projects. This year, more than $1.2 billion has been issued to 405 airports.
Associate Administrator for Airports D. Kirk Shaffer said the program is especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of airports across the country have taken advantage of the downturn in aircraft to accelerate their construction projects. We certainly have supported that,” Shaffer said. “It is very smart on their part because it minimizes operational delays and congestion and gets us ready for a full rebound in the near term.”
He pointed out the investments don’t just benefit travelers, noting all those packages ordered online “don’t just show up by magic.”
“We like to pride ourselves and say we live in an internet economy,” Shaffer said. “After you get on your smartphone or your laptop or however you order goods and services somewhere between then and that package showing up on your front porch, there’s a boat or a train or a tractor trailer rig or an airplane involved. That internet economy is very much a transportation economy.”
The grant announcement came as Dulles Airport anchor United Airlines announced plans to furlough about 20 percent of its frontline employees—more than 16,000 workers—once federal emergency assistance expires next month.
Shaffer said airlines and airports have worked hard to ensure air travel is safe, but he acknowledged that the industry is unlikely to recover until a vaccine is widely available.
“We’re going to continue to work with the trade associations and airports across the system to make people comfortable and regain their confidence that it is, in fact, safe and healthy to fly,” he said, noting the success of safety measures such as airports use of contactless temperature checks to increase passenger spacing and more frequently cleaning. “As soon as we’ve got a vaccine, as soon as we have some proven therapeutics, that will go a long way.”
A bit of good news for the industry: Over the Labor Day weekend air travel was at a five-month high.