Passenger numbers climb as Tucson airport releases recovery plan

Airport sterilization

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Though business is by no means soaring, air travel is climbing at the Tucson International Airport.

The airport has seen a significant uptick in passenger numbers compared to its slowest day in April.

Earlier this week, the airport authority adopted a three-year strategic plan. Officials hope to inspire more travel.

At a surface glance, nothing looks different about the handrails on the escalators and moving walkways. However, it’s what you can’t see that’s working to keep people safe.

“Underneath the handrails, we’ve installed a UV light disinfection system,” said Bruce Goetz, the Chief Operating Officer of the Tucson Airport Authority.

Goetz says the lights constantly sterilize the handrails by killing bacteria on the spot. However, he says custodians still regularly wipe them down to remove fingerprints.

“The way people come through the airport is probably going to be forever changing in terms of how you cue people,” said Goetz, “but [we are] really focusing on the touchless journey.”

Which includes plans to install a toe button at each elevator, allowing passengers to both call the elevator and choose a floor without lifting a finger. Airlines have also adjusted to the times.

“When you walk in, you’re primarily using your phone to print your boarding pass,” Goetz said.

This new way of flying has been quickly embraced by those who love to travel but need some reassurance.

“Airports are doing a great job with the measures,” said Julie Brignac. “I know I felt very safe.”

“People are beginning to trust the system so-to-speak,” said Larry Brignac.

The Brignac’s have flown twice since air travel plummeted in March.

On April 12, the Tucson airport saw a 95 percent drop in passengers. It’s now seeing a bit of a recovery.

“Our weekly average; we are somewhere at about 39 percent of normal,” said Goetz. “We are beating the national average by 10 percent to 14 percent every day.”

“It’s important in order to keep our economy going,” said Julie. “It’s a good sign.”

With declining COVID-19 cases, officials are hoping for even more gains this holiday.

“We hope that the Arizona numbers will stay low, we know a lot of people like to visit in the winter,” said Goetz.

Larry and Julie say they’ll be back.

Despite the positive trend, the TAA is concerned passenger numbers may drop again in September and October as airlines reduce the number of seats available by 22 percent due to layoffs. Officials say this is closely tied to CARES Act funding running out.

The Tucson airport is losing about $1 million a month. The airport authority did receive nearly $23 million from the CARES Act and Goetz says they plan to stretch it. He is hoping U.S. Congress will pass another pandemic relief package soon.

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