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Nearly Half of U.S. Airports Short Staffed

Even with record-setting passenger volumes, more than half of U.S. airports surveyed in a new report say they have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Terminal D at DFW Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Despite rebounding demand for domestic air travel, many U.S. airports are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to new research from Aerocloud – a tech-based airport management platform – 51% of airports report that revenues have not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

As passenger traffic has increased, 45% of the 100 airport leaders surveyed say they also don’t have enough staff. A ‘concerning’ 61% of airport leaders identify this staffing challenge as a ‘significant risk to their operations’ in the upcoming 12 months, the report stated.

The company’s report comes on the heels of another record-shattering holiday travel period for U.S. airlines and airports. On Sunday, November 26, 2023, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported that just over 2.9 million individuals entered its checkpoints at airports across the U.S., the busiest single day in the agency’s history.

A Lagging Financial Recovery

With over half of U.S. airports not seeing revenue growth to pre-COVID levels, some are also concerned about debt. 37% of airport leaders say that they have so-called ‘lingering’ debt levels; a staggering 48% are apprehensive about their overall financial stability.

Airports account for a significant portion of their revenues through concessions and parking. Consumers spending at airport concessions has also been sluggish, the report found. 67% of airports anticipate an impact to passenger spending at these concessions.

This lull in spending has prompted 90% of the airports surveyed to rethink their strategies involving shopping and dining. To increase spending, some airports want to become ‘shopping destinations,’ reducing time spent in check-in and security to allow passengers more time in concessionary areas.

Capacity and Airline Volatility a Concern

Concerned about their reputation for uncontrollable issues, recent airline and air traffic control disruptions have put some airport leaders on edge. Aerocloud’s report indicates that 71% of airport leaders express fear over the repercussions of disruptive events while 75% emphasized how flight cancellations can tarnish the airport’s overall reputation.

There has been a recent dose of good news for airport operators, though. On Monday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) reported that – despite record passenger volumes – cancellation rates are at the lowest point since 2018.

New Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport (Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

Having the capacity for additional air carrier growth is another concern for some U.S. airport leaders. Half of the airports surveyed say they have yet to fully restore all routes served before the pandemic, partly due to capacity constraints.

“In the U.S., the challenge is not in attracting passengers, with airport traffic steadily growing and a 150% passenger increase estimated by 2040,” the report states. “Instead, they are struggling to manage the growth of travelers with limited capacity.”

26% of the airports surveyed say they are limited in how they can grow due to terminal capacity constraints. To help, 89% seek federal funding, including from President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which was signed in August 2023.

A whopping 93% of U.S. airport leaders want to attract new airlines, while 95% want to optimize existing slots to increase capacity.

“The U.S. aviation outlook is robust, yet numerous airports are struggling with the challenge of meeting escalating passenger demand. While 89% of U.S. airports underscore the importance of securing federal funding, such as the Biden Infrastructure Bill, as a key commercial priority for long-term growth, they still have immediate concerns [surrounding] staff shortages and terminal capacity limitations,” Aerocloud CEO and co-founder George Richardson said in a press release.

“Presently, airport leaders are prioritizing exploring strategies to optimize their operations and maximize existing capacity, aiming to accommodate more airlines and passengers and thereby enhance their revenue,” Richardson added.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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