Rochester International Airport is eligible for nearly $2.5 million in federal emergency resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds are a portion of $10 billion provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Airport Grant Program.

"This $10 billion in emergency resources will help fund the continued operations of our nation’s airports during this crisis and save workers’ jobs," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a statement announcing the funding this week.

Seven municipal and regional airports throughout Southeast Minnesota are also eligible for funds, with most earmarked to receive $20,000 or $30,000.

Red Wing Regional Airport will see more than double the others, with $69,000 slated to go to the city-run facility.

Tom Blue, caretaker of the Red Wing airport, said activity has decreased sharply, and the terminal is opening by appointment only.

"Basically all our operations here, as far as our base jets, are shut down," he said, indicating 15 jets are based at the facility.

Additionally, he said smaller aircraft flights have dropped below a quarter of what they have been, which puts a dent in the airport’s fuel revenue.

As a result, some staff has been laid off and others have had hours cut due to the lack of work.

The Rochester airport has also seen a slow down amid the pandemic.

Tiana O’Connor, the airport’s marketing and communications manager, reported significant decreases in passengers, similar to the impacts the entire aviation industry is experiencing.

"The industry is seeing passenger traffic drop to about one-tenth of normal operations," she said in late March. "The airport does remain operational as we are serving commercial passengers that have essential travel and also cargo operations and private aviation operations."

A report by Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer indicates the Rochester airport will see $2.3 million to $3.2 million in lost revenue this year. 

The state’s stay-at-home order doesn’t directly impact airport operations since most are deemed essential, but it has resulted in a lack of business for airports of all sizes.

Dodge Center’s municipal airport hasn’t seen a corporate aircraft land in months, Airport Manager Wayne Trom said.

"That’s just dropped off to nothing," he said, adding that smaller private flights also have decreased.

However, the downturn hasn’t had a large impact on what’s required to keep the city-run facility operating.

"We don’t have any less work," he said.

Pam Schroeder, who manages Fillmore County's airport, said the Preston facility has also seen reduced fuel sales and related flights, estimating it's largely due to the lack of destinations that area open to visitors.

The airport officials said the added federal funding will help the facilities maintain plans for improvements and keep operations running.

Rochester International Airport officials plan to define how the funds will be spent after the Rochester City Council meets Monday afternoon. During that meeting, city revenue and expenses impacts related to COVID-19 are expected to be discussed.

The council will also be asked to authorize accepting the federal funds during Monday’s meeting.

Rochester's $2.5 million award is the fourth highest in the state. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is slated to receive $125 million, followed by nearly $18 million for Brainerd Lakes regional Airport and $5.2 million for Duluth International Airport.

The federal funding is intended to support continuing operations and replace lost revenue resulting from the sharp decline in passenger traffic and other airport business due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The funds are available for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses including payroll and utilities and airport debt payments.

Schroeder, who is secretary and treasurer for the Minnesota Council of Airports, said questions remain regarding how the funds can be used, and she's waiting for additional details before earmarking the fund for specific budget items. 

"It's kind of a wait-and-see thing," she said 

In Red Wing, the added funding is expected to help keep plans for fuel tank replacement on track.

"With the decrease in traffic, fuel sales which are a primary revenue source for the Red Wing Regional Airport, have decreased, and this grant funding will help supplement the airport budget," said Rick Moskwa, Red Wing’s director of Public Works.

In Dodge Center, Trom said the $30,000 the city expects to receive will also be used to supplement the airport’s budget and move ahead with planned repairs to its taxiway.

Eight Southeast Minnesota airports are eligible for federal funding through the CARES Act. Along with the funding amount, they are:

  • Austin Municipal Airport -- $30,000
  • Houston County Airport -- $20,000
  • Dodge Center Airport -- $30,000
  • Fillmore County Airport -- $30,000
  • Red Wing Regional Airport -- $69,000
  • Rochester International Airport -- $2,479,991
  • Rushford Municipal Airport -- $20,000
  • Winona Municipal Airport -- $30,000