Marfa airport gets boost from federal coronavirus relief bill

PRESIDIO COUNTY — The Marfa Municipal Airport will receive $30,000 in federal relief funds, a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress on March 27. The relief bill included $10 billion in funding to provide economic relief for U.S. airports affected by the prevention of, preparation for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As Texas reels from the economic destruction caused by the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important our airports have the resources they need to weather the storm,” Texas Senator John Cornyn said. “I commend both the Trump Administration and leaders in Marfa who worked to secure these funds during this trying time.”

The funding is intended to support continued operations at airports across the country, as well as provide some relief for lost revenue during the pandemic. According to the United States Department of Transportation, the funds can be used for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses, including payroll and utilities, and airport debt payments.

The neighboring Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport in Alpine was awarded $20,000 in the bill, but the Presidio Lely International Airport was left out of the federal relief package, because it has not yet received classification as a National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) airport. Presidio County Airport Director Chase Snodgrass said the county has applied but they have not heard back. And while they meet some of the criteria, there are certain aspects of the Presidio Lely Airport that could mean they aren’t qualified.

But Snodgrass suspects that most of the $30,000 of funds will be used to make up for lost revenues since traffic through Marfa Municipal Airport has slowed. Before the coronavirus, the airport was breaking its own records, bringing in funds faster than ever. Snodgrass said the airport sold more fuel every month of this fiscal year compared to last year.

Then, the coronavirus hit. “In March, the two airports sold 4,000 gallons, and the previous March we sold 10,000 gallons.”

Those months of high revenues will hopefully help offset budget shortfalls. The county made 76 percent of its budgeted income in six months, meaning the latter half of the year does not need to be as successful in order to keep them afloat.

“My proposal would be to put it in the airport revenue and use it to replace what was lost in fuel sales,” Snodgrass said. Airport revenue covers the costs of insurance, vehicles, salaries, electricity and smaller airport improvement projects that don’t qualify as capital improvement projects.

“We were terribly optimistic before this coronavirus nonsense,” the director said. “Now fuel sales have dropped off by 75 percent loss in volume by gallon over March and April.”

“I don’t know how long it will continue, April looks to be the same way,” he said. As for the $30,000 infusion of federal money, Snodgrass said, “That $30,000 just barely makes up for that. I hope we start recovering and people start flying again.”

“People are still flying in, but we’re not getting the big jets from New Jersey and California that we normally do,” he said.