Airline traffic declines drastically

HARLINGEN —The drop in airline passenger traffic in April due to coronavirus lockdowns and fears about traveling has been little short of catastrophic for the airline industry, federal officials based here say.

Eduardo Loya, Transportation Security Administration assistant federal security director at Valley International Airport, said overall passenger security checks for April were reduced by 92 percent across the country, a number mirrored at the Harlingen airport.

At VIA, officials said last week the official passenger load for March was down 40 percent, and they expect it to worsen when they receive official April numbers from airlines.

“Nationwide passenger plane loads have decreased approximately around 92 percent compared to this time last year,” Loya said at last week’s meeting of the VIA board. “Basically, on a daily average TSA was doing around 2.2 million passengers a day, screening 2.2 million passengers a day, now we’re doing around 180,000 passengers a day. So it’s a big drop from our normal operations.”

Since TSA screens all commercial passengers on airline flights prior to boarding, those numbers seem like an accurate indicator of a virtual shutdown of air travel due to reduced passenger demand.

“Here at Valley International for April, we’re about the same percentage, a 92-percent reduction in our base of passenger enplanements,” he added. “I think April of 2019 we did around 31,000 passengers. This year, April of 2020, we did 2,400 passengers.”

So far in May, Loya said, there are some better numbers to report.

“In May, we upped our passenger enplanements, and we’re doing around 13 percent right now, it jumped up from 8 to around 13 percent,” Loya said. “Hopefully, it will continue throughout the summer.”

Loya said 569 TSA officers nationwide have been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19, with a resulting six deaths.

“Again, we’ve been very fortunate here in the Rio Grande Valley, we have zero cases to date.”