Alaska airports to get $124 million in federal relief

The Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue. The airport will receive $1.2 million in federal funding to offset business lost due to the coronavirus. (Wikimedia commons photo)

The Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that airports in Alaska will receive more than $124 million in federal aid. 

The money is the state’s share of $10 billion issued to airports nationwide by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act. 

In a press release, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the funding is to preserve airport operations and secure workers’ jobs. It can be used for airport capital projects, as well as payroll, utilities and debt payment. 

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The funding formula given by the federal government is based on passenger numbers per airport, so airports with more people coming through brought in more money. 

For instance, travel via the Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue brought about $1.2 million in funding to the state, while the much larger Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage brought in more than $26 million. 

But, that might not be how the money gets divvied up in Alaska, says Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey. 

“We don’t fund by specific airports like that, so we’ll have to get legislative authority first before we can move forward and then we’ll work across the system both rural and international before we can allocate funding,” Bailey said.

She says the funding will likely be handed out on a needs basis.

Bailey says that, on average, Alaska airports are seeing about an 83% decrease in passenger travel. That hits international airports harder than smaller rural airports, which don’t get money from passenger fees. 

“For our international airports, that translates to a monetary impact right now,” Bailey said. “For our rural airports, it doesn’t have an immediate impact, but obviously on the budget across the state, there’s impacts.”

In keeping with the state’s “hunker down” health mandate, travel across Alaska has been restricted heavily. Airports aren’t the only industry hurt by reduced travel. RavnAir Group, the largest rural air carrier in the state, filed for bankruptcy and laid off all its staff following a 90% drop in revenue from coronavirus travel restrictions. 

Bailey says the priority for the state Transportation Department is to make sure that airports remain safe and operational so they can resume use once various travel restrictions are lifted.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify that funding was allocated to Alaska based on individual airport traffic, but what each airport will receive is still pending.

Wesley Early is a reporter with Alaska Public Media, covering municipal politics and Anchorage life.

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