By Bobby Bordelon
The Greenbrier Valley Airport preliminarily reported strong financials and the potential for new flights in the Tuesday, September 22, meeting of the Airport Authority.
With passage of the CARES Act in March by Congress, the airport will reported be in strong financial shape for the foreseeable future. After being previously paid however, some CARES Act payments are currently delayed due to a backlog, explained CFO Martha Livesay.
“The July and August draws have been held up because they have so many that they’re trying to process,” Livesay explained.
Despite the delays, Livesay also noted that the airport was in good shape and the budget would not be negatively affected. In addition to previously paid out CARES Act money, fuel sales at the airport have provided a stream of income.
“[Fuel sales] are what drives our income and I think this is probably … one of the best years, best summers, that we’ve ever had,” Livesay said.
Although not the largest driver of the budget, passenger travel continues to be depressed.
“On the passenger traffic, you can see where it’s gone down a bit,” said Airport Director Brian Belcher. “It’s not where we want to be, but it’s following the national trend. … Hopefully things will get back and we’ll get to where we want to be.”
The future of the airport and Greenbrier Valley tourism could soon be looking brighter however – the business of tourism is changing in the United States, with more people looking to get to outdoor, less populated places for vacations. Airport Authority board member, and Vice President of sales and event services for The Greenbrier, Greg Furlong and Belcher recently attended meetings with other flight providers, hoping to increase the airport’s accessibility.
“We got a lot of face time with people, asked them a ton of questions, trying to get this airport and area on the map again,” Belcher said.
“It was a great conference, great group of people,” Furlong continued. “… We had some good conversations with Delta, but probably the best was American. They told us some things we need to provide in order to make a case for additional flights. They seemed to be the most impressive in adding flights since March, building domestic routes. … Very encouraging that some [new] routes could be possible.”
One way that new flights would be possible is the lack of revenue guarantees from the Greenbrier Valley Airport. A typical deal struck between airports and flight providers require the airport to purchase the tickets for any empty seats on flights coming into the airport, so the provider doesn’t lose fuel and other costs associated with running flights without having a full passenger load. This has been one limiting factor around the airport’s ability to bring in more flights, placing the financial burden on the Greenbrier Valley Airport, which is risky for the airport’s budget. Furlong noted that these revenue guarantees could be off the table for future negotiations.
“He basically said there was nothing off the table right now,” Belcher said. “Because of the position they’re in, they are open to something they [might not have been] before.”
Much like a recent Tourism Talk held by the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Furlong indicated Greenbrier County is well prepared for a post-COVID-19 tourism world.
“All indications are showing that, we see it from the hotel side, … it’s all rural destinations,” Furlong said. “Places where you can be outside. All these future indicators for at least the next two years, we check off almost every one of those boxes.”
Although Livesay gave an outline of the financial outlook, the airport’s CPA Richard Ross was unable to attend the meeting due to an accident, leading the board to delay consideration of the financial report to the next meeting.
The board voted to move funding above $250,000 in the operating budget to a long-term reserve fund.
In other business:
After communication with the state auditor’s office, Livesay noted that the airport only had one finding, “the one we’ve had for many, many years,” concerning “segregation of duties.” The airport however is not expected to fix this issue due to the number of employees required to properly segregate responsibilities.
“He said that based on our size, that would be an impossible one [to fix],” Livesay said.
Ongoing infrastructure improvement projects are humming along, with Parrish and Partners’ Jon McCalmont explained that a new beacon on top of the airport’s tower would soon replace the one standing just north of the airport’s entrance. In addition, the results of a drainage study are soon expected back from the FAA.
“The drainage study – our preliminary report is submitted to FAA for review,” explained McCalmont. “I’ve spoke with them on the phone about some minor items but have not received final comments by any way other than verbal. We’re waiting on for receipt of that and we’ll turn in our final review. We should be able to move forward quickly with that.”
The recent arrival of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers for training at The Greenbrier through the Greenbrier Valley Airport was a success.
“Our faculty did a great job handling two aircraft, a 757 and a 737. We had quite a few employees out and they did a great job taking care of them.”
Furlong noted the team was happy with the job.
“They were extremely complimentary of the airport and the staff,” Furlong said.
Belcher explained ongoing work on building two has been “delayed a little bit because the employee that was working on it had been exposed and [is] in quarantine for 14 days.”