ITHACA, N.Y. — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is urging United Airlines to scrap plans to temporarily cut flights to Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport after reduced demand has decimated the air travel industry.
The airport, which received $1.7 million in aid from the CAREs Act, has seen demand begin to increase slightly as the nation has started the process of reopening. Sen. Schumer says that eliminating flights now could hamper the economic recovery process at a vital time in the region’s rebound. Schumer says United has made a request to the U.S. Department of Transportation to cancel service to the regional airport
“As a gateway for business, family connection, and tourism, Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport is vital to the economy of Ithaca and the entire Southern Tier,” said Senator Schumer. “United’s reliable service over the years has been integral to the success of the airport and is more important than ever as the Southern Tier reopens and begins the recovery process. That is why I am calling on United to reconsider their request to the Department of Transportation to cancel service to Ithaca and stick by the Southern Tier as we look to life after this stage of the crisis.”
Director of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport Mike Hall says that April’s flight data shows that air travel in the region is rebounding in April and May, and expects that demand to increase throughout the summer.
“Cornell University, the largest employer in Central New York, is a major research institution with strong federal relationships that are enhanced by this route. Washington – Ithaca service directly supports Finger Lakes Tourism, including summer winery tours and winter skiing at Greek Peak Mountain Resort,” said Hall. “After posting a load factor of 6% during the month of April, this route is showing strong recovery as our economy reopens. Load factors more than doubled in May and are expected to continue that trend throughout the summer months. We will continue to promote our partnership with United Airlines as we travel the airways to recovery, one step at a time, together.”
United Airlines said in a mid-April press release that they anticipated receiving about $5 billion in taxpayer money from the $25 billion pot provided for airlines in the CAREs Act. $3.5 billion in direct grants and $1.5 billion in low-interest loans to be paid back over the next decade. In the deal struck between the airlines and the U.S. Treasury, carriers could not layoff employees until Sept. 30.
Despite these limitations, in a letter to employees on Wednesday, United CEO J. Scott Kirby prepared United staff for eventual layoffs.
“Our costs are not designed for the near-term uncertainty of travel demand. Demand could be down 30% or it could be down 70%,” said Kirby in his not to employees. “The way to best survive this crisis is to be able to nimbly adjust the size of the airline, including labor costs, to meet demand and importantly, be ready to bounce back quickly when the virus is defeated.”
Read Schumer’s letter to Kirby below:
Dear Mr. Kirby:
I write to you today regarding United Airlines’ request to temporarily suspend service to Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH). In that regard, I ask that your company instead consider maintaining its current service level to ITH.
Firstly, I recognize the challenges of maintaining full flight schedules during the COVID-19 crisis so far and given the impact that this pandemic has had on airlines, I am grateful that United Airlines has met their service commitment to ITH so far. With the Southern Tier region of New York one of the first to reopen and resume normal life, the airport is seeing load factors rise substantially in comparison to the worst of the crisis just six weeks ago. For that reason, United’s appeal to USDOT to temporarily suspend service to Ithaca does not seem congruent with the reopening of regional activity.
During the drafting of the CARES Act, I secured provisions providing grants for industry’s worker payrolls and I also ensured that the industry would receive low-interest loans to cover other costs such as station rental fees and landing fees to airports, that were struggling just as much as airlines. Canceling service to airports such as ITH—even temporarily—could have a devastating effect on the airport and the community.
Due to the increased load factors, the effect this would have on travelers, and the significant impact that suspension of service would have on the airport, I strongly urge you to reconsider United Airlines’ decision to suspend service at ITH.
I thank you for your time and look forward to hearing from you on this matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.