With business starting to pick up, local airports optimistic about 2021


JACKSONVILLE N.C. (WNCT) — Travel experts believe 2021 will be a recovery year for airline travel after the pandemic grounded many people from taking to the skies and coming to Eastern North Carolina in 2020.

Managers at Eastern North Carolina airports say 2020 was a turbulent year for travel. Chris White, the director at Albert J Ellis Airport in Onslow County, said their passenger numbers fell to 5 percent of normal in March when COVID-19 restrictions began.

OAJ slowly began to recover around April as numbers showed about 15 percent of normal traffic moving through. Since then, traffic has pulled up to 75 percent of normal. There are still two airlines flying passengers in and out of Onslow County.

Coastal Carolina Regional Airport also lost a lot of traffic when Delta Airlines suspended services last year, about 25 percent. Airport workers are exploring options for the flight service to soon return to EWN.

The New Bern Airport saw its lowest passenger numbers in March, but managers said they regained altitude by the end of the year. American Airlines performed well in December, and gauged up aircraft sizes to accommodate increased passenger demand.

“They knew they were overbooked on some of these, so they booked a plane with 15 percent more seats in it,” said Andrew Shorter, director at Coastal Carolina Regional Airport.

Both airports received federal stimulus money last year to avoid job cuts and keep the facilities financially stable. White said that money also covered costs to step up disinfection in the facility.

White and Shorter say uncertainty is their biggest challenge of 2021.

“How to protect travelers and employees; when will a vaccine be broadly available; what are airlines planning with flights; how will our finance be effected,” said White.

White is hopeful with a promise of COVID shots that likely means smooth flying ahead.

“As the vaccines start to get deployed, we’ll start seeing people traveling, more than they have been in the past,” said White.

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