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Sunport ‘an absolute ghost town’ due to virus

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

On Monday, 854 passengers boarded airplanes at the Albuquerque International Sunport, according to preliminary data.

That’s 88% fewer than the same day in 2019.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Tuesday called the city-owned airport “an absolute ghost town.”

Albuquerque’s situation is not unique.

With the global coronavirus pandemic growing each day in the U.S., the country’s airlines have already cut most of their international flights and have announced plans to reduce service within the U.S. by up to 40% in April, The Associated Press reported. Those drastic planned cutbacks in service now seem hopelessly optimistic, given the few people who continue to fly, according to the AP.

On Tuesday, Southwest Airlines said it would cancel about 1,500 of its nearly 4,000 daily flights starting Friday and continue until its previously revised schedule takes effect April 14. Southwest accounts for about half of all Sunport traffic, although it was not immediately clear which of the Albuquerque flights would be affected. An airline spokesperson said the cancellations will “vary by day and market based upon demand.”

Local officials have been warning against travel since the state announced its first coronavirus case earlier this month.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged the state’s residents to avoid out-of-state travel on March 11, when she declared a public health emergency. The state Department of Health now recommends that anyone who has traveled out of state self-isolate for 14 days to limit potential spread of coronavirus.

Keller said people should be traveling now only for emergencies or to get back home.

The mayor said he had some early fears that a crowded local airport would contribute to the disease’s expansion in New Mexico, but that is no longer a major concern.

“I think the market and people’s own behavior is really taking care of this; almost no one is traveling,” he said. “There are planes leaving our town with one person on them.”

The Sunport is by far the state’s largest airport, with over 5.4 million total incoming and outgoing passengers in fiscal year 2019. It normally averages about 150 departures and landings a day.

But the recent drop-off has been significant.

The Sunport’s daily boardings last Wednesday were 71% lower than the same day in 2019, according to preliminary data that may change before official reports come out. The year-to-year decline was 81% on Thursday and 88% by Monday.

While passenger traffic has plummeted, the airport remains open and has active cargo facilities for FedEx and UPS.

“Often people focus on the public facing sides of an airport – the travelers and airlines. It’s easy to forget the role airports play in the logistics of emergency operations by supporting statewide response and providing a base for the distribution of supplies,” Nyika Allen, the city’s aviation director, said in a statement. “Our partnership with cargo air carriers, Kirtland Air Force Base, and our many tenants providing essential services is more important now than ever.”

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