TYLER, Texas (KLTV) – ‘A robust return to the skies’ is how East Texas airport managers are describing this time of year.
The pandemic caused a lull in travel, but East Texas airports have seen an increase in travel this summer, compared to last summer.
Roy Miller, the airport director at the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview, said when COVID-19 hit, their numbers dropped.
“One of the barometers that I use is the parking lot, the public parking lot. It was just about empty. There’d be maybe 10 cars. We never had one (flight) completely empty, but we had fewer than 10 many times on a 50-seat airplane,” Miller said.
As time went on, Miller said they began seeing some increase and right now are almost back up to where they were, but they are not quite back to the numbers before the pandemic.
“We had almost a 100 percent increase from August to August,” Miller said. “About 78 percent increase from year to date so we’re seeing a recovery; people have adjusted. Traffic is coming back and our airline is doing well.”
The Tyler Pounds Regional Airport is seeing similar patterns.
Steve Thompson, the airport director in Tyler, said, “Our year over year passenger enplanement numbers for July were up approximately 79 percent. So that’s a great indicator that we’re really seeing that return to flying by the general public.”
It’s important to have airport traffic back again because Thompson said the airport acts as an economic engine for Tyler and surrounding areas.
“Our year over year parking revenue for July was more than double what we saw for last July, and we just got in our final numbers for August as well, and those numbers are even higher than July,” Thompson said.
Tyler Pounds held a TSA precheck enrollment event in July and Thompson said the event completely sold out.
“We basically, for an entire week, filled every slot that was available for people to come out and enroll in that great TSA precheck program,” he said. “So that interest right there shows that people are ready to fly. They’re ready to get back to traveling.”
Thompson said their airport didn’t have a full inspection last year because of COVID-19. The FFA looked at their paperwork and administrative work, but Thompson said, “To have our inspectors come out here and give a really good look at the airport and have our team pull off a discrepancy-free inspection for the first time in two years was just outstanding,” he said. “It shows that our facility is top-notch, very effective, very efficient, very secure, and really ready to support that return to travel that we’re seeing with the public.”
Both airports are still following federal COVID-19 guidelines and require masks in their facilities and on airplanes, but say they are encouraged by the increase.
In Tyler and Longview, both airports have received federal funding to help with enhancements to their facilities.