Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will halt commercial flights at the Unity Township facility starting this week and will furlough roughly 30 employees, airport officials told the Bulletin on Friday.
Westmoreland County Airport Authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said all commercial flights at the airport will be grounded starting Wednesday, April 8.
He added that scheduled daily commercial flights at the airport will continue through Tuesday, April 7. Spirit currently offers flights to four Florida cities (Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers) along with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The airport will remain open for private aviation and charter service, Monzo said.
“We thought it would be something like this eventually,” Monzo said of the move, which he noted was made by Spirit Airlines and was spurred by a massive decrease in airline travel nationwide this month because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Officials said commercial flights will be halted at the airport through at least May 4. The airport’s lone carrier, Spirit has offered low-cost flights at the Latrobe-area airport since early 2011.
Spirit spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said the airline is revising its April and May schedules “in response to the changing demand environment” related to the ongoing pandemic.
“For April 2020, our capacity will be down an average of about 75% from what was originally planned for the month. For May 2020, planned capacity will also be down about 75% from the original plan for the month,” Hofmeyer said in an email. “We are still determining how that will play out on an airport-by-airport basis.
“The situation surrounding the coronavirus remains fluid, meaning actual capacity reductions may shift based on the demand environment continuing to evolve. We hope to return to normal capacity at our stations as soon as possible.”
Monzo said late last month that Spirit commercial flights at the Unity Township facility were running at about 20% capacity. Typically, that percentage ranges from about 90 to 95%. Recent flights at the airport have had only about 10 to 12 passengers on average, he added.
Final passenger totals for March at the airport were unavailable at press time. The recent virus-related downtick in airline traffic comes after the airport saw an increase in passengers for a third straight year in 2019, according to the airport authority’s annual report.
In the report, officials noted that a combined 309,817 passengers, inbound and outbound, passed through the Unity Township terminal last year. That total was nearly 9,000 passengers more than the airport served in 2018.
Among the workers to be furloughed at the airport include airline ticket counters, ramp workers and other commercial airline service employees, Monzo said. Airport maintenance staff and administrators are expected to keep working, he said, adding that maintenance workers will focus on general upkeep at the facility like cleaning, cutting grass and painting while Spirit flights are halted.
Over the next month, Monzo said Spirit is also expecting to store about eight planes at the airport.
Monzo said work on a runway strengthening and widening project at the airport will begin this week as scheduled, as well as a two-week shutdown planned in September for work on the project. The $13.2-million project, which will widen the runway from 100 feet to 150 feet, is expected to be completed in October.
“They’re going to maintain CDC guidelines while they’re working,” Monzo said of the workers, who he noted will be able to work 10-hour days instead of eight-hour days to “help move the project along a little faster.”