Empty Airport

Hallways are completely empty Friday at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.

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Dozens of airports across Montana are to receive millions of dollars from the recently passed CARES Act to help keep the airports up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Tuesday news release from the U.S Department of Transportation.

The Federal Aviation Administration will award more than $73 million to 71 airports around the state. The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport will receive $15.4 million and the Yellowstone Airport near West Yellowstone will receive $17.8 million.

“Much of this funding will be used to offset that loss in revenue, to cover our expenses and also to continue our current projects,” said Brian Sprenger, the director of the Bozeman airport.

Sprenger said that, because the airport is designated as a small hub airport, one of the stipulations on accepting the money is that at least 90% of airport staff must be able to keep working through the end of the year. That doesn’t include TSA or concessions folks, but it does include all administrative staff, airport police and the fire department, operations, custodial and maintenance departments — in total, about 45 people, Sprenger said. He said the airport is doing “everything we can” to keep those employees on board.

“Like many entities, we’re trying to ensure that we maintain all of our good people,” he said.

Customers at the airport were down roughly 38% for the month of March, and Sprenger said that number will almost definitely be higher for April. The $15.4 million will help fill those revenue gaps for fixed costs like contracts and will help keep cargo operations and life flights going, Sprenger said.

“That’s a side of the airport that people don’t always see,” he said. “People are very dependent upon that access to the world.”

Jeff Kadlec, manager of the Yellowstone Airport in West, said the specific uses for that $17.8 million will be hammered out in the coming weeks and months, but it will likely be used mainly for infrastructure and airport improvements.

“We’re pleasantly surprised, and we’re very excited to be allocated the funds,” he said.

The Yellowstone Airport’s only commercial flights are seasonal flights to Salt Lake City, which begin in May and end in October. Those commercial flights have also been cut back — in a normal summer, those flights would bump up to two per day during the height of the season. Because of the virus, the commercial flights coming into the Yellowstone airport have been cut back to one per day until at least the end of June.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.