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Spokane airport receives $17 million in pandemic aid

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After a year of plummeting passenger traffic, Spokane International Airport has received a big financial lift from recently passed federal pandemic-relief legislation. 

The airport will receive $16.8 million in economic relief from the American Rescue Plan.

The money can be used to reimburse operational expenses, debt service payments and costs related to combating the spread of pathogens, according to a news release from the office of Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. The funding also can be used to provide rent relief to in-terminal retail and concession companies.

In exchange, airports receiving funding must continue to employ at least 90% of their pre-pandemic employees. 

Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, also a Washington Democrat, both voted for the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which earmarked $217 million for airports across the state. The bulk of the money, nearly $176 million, will go to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but a number of smaller airports also received money, including $59,000 for Felts Field in Spokane and $32,000 for the airport in Deer Park. 

Larry Krauter, CEO of Spokane International, welcomed the infusion of cash in an emailed statement. 

“We are very thankful to Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell for making certain that public use airports were included in ARPA,” Krauter wrote. “These funds are critical to maintaining employment, advancing capital improvement projects, ensuring liquidity and assisting our concessions operators as we navigate the recovery of the air transportation industry from the impacts of the pandemic.”

Passenger traffic at the airport was down as much as 92%, year-over-year, in 2020, but it has started to climb back.

In April, the most recent month for which data is available, about 247,000 passengers passed through Spokane International. That’s up 934% from the almost 24,000 passengers in April 2020. But it’s still down from the 308,000 who traveled through in April 2019. 

Murray said the American Rescue Plan money was intended to keep airports like Spokane’s thriving as travelers return to airline gates. 

“As we continue to get shots in arms and Washington state families are flying again in greater and greater numbers, it’s critical that our airports can keep people and goods going where they need to go,” Murray said in a written statement. “Washington state’s airports are absolutely vital to our regional economies and after a devastating year for the airline industry, the American Rescue Plan will help keep workers on payroll, passengers on planes, and shipments in the skies.” 

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