Much has changed since my last update on April 21, 2020. At that time, the significant changes to the aviation industry and how we travel were just beginning to be realized. At the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP), we were actively modifying the airport’s operation to acclimate to the new and continually evolving environment.
During April 2020, passenger traffic at GSP decreased by 96% compared to the same month in 2019. In response, airlines swiftly canceled flights to adapt to the decreased passenger demand. Restaurant and retail operations that were initially consolidated to our Grand Hall for passenger convenience were later closed or had their operating hours reduced. The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Vino Volo – Market Bar, DC3 Hot Dogs, Chick-fil-A, Thomas Creek Grill, RJ Rockers Flight Room, the Escape Lounge, Palmetto Distillery, and the Hudson retail stores on each concourse were all closed.
Since the airport is considered critical essential infrastructure, GSP had to remain fully operational and ready to serve the passenger, cargo, general aviation, and military needs of the region regardless of the level of consumer demand. So, it was imperative that we found a way to remain fully operational while absorbing significant losses in revenue and activity. To meet the call, the Airport District enacted significant measures to conserve funds and assist our airlines and business partners during this difficult time.
To ensure the highest level of safety for our customers, Airport District staff and our business partners implemented “Prepare for Takeoff”, which is a comprehensive communications program designed to encourage passenger safety and to stem the spread of the coronavirus at GSP. The program included the wearing of facial coverings in the terminal building, enhanced cleaning procedures, the installation of Plexiglass shields at ticket counters and gates, the installation of social distancing stickers throughout the terminal building, increased signage, additional hand sanitizing stations, and more.
Now, nearly six months into the pandemic, we are beginning to see some signs of recovery. Passenger traffic has steadily increased and we are now carrying about 35% of our pre-pandemic passenger traffic. While far from the record-setting activity we anticipated in the beginning of the year, volume at GSP is outpacing the national average and many similar-sized airports across the U.S.
In September 2020, the Vino Volo – Market Bar re-opened in the Grand Hall. In December 2020, we plan to reopen two additional restaurants including Chick-fil-A and The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck. We are also optimistic that a new restaurant concept to replace DC3 Hot Dogs may be opened during the first half of 2021; allowing even more choices for dining at GSP.
GSP has been fortunate to retain nearly all of its pre-pandemic air service access. While the number of daily flights has been reduced, we are confident that we will see nearly all our nonstop destinations restored in early 2021. In fact, as airlines rebuild their route networks, we have been busy suggesting new route opportunities from GSP. Based on some discussions last week, these efforts appear to be paying off, as we anticipate announcing one or two new nonstop destinations in the very near future. Stay tuned!
To ensure that the airport remains well positioned to serve the Upstate region’s needs once air travel demand returns, work has continued on several significant capital improvement projects. We anticipate that our new Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting (ARFF) station will open on schedule in November 2020 and that our new Economy Parking Lot C will be completed in January 2021.
Enhancements to the airport entrance road and work to relieve roadway congestion at the airport will also conclude by the end of the year. Our lighter flight schedule has allowed us to conduct necessary maintenance on our runway and taxiways and we have started to clear land for a future apron expansion and new aircraft hangar. In addition, a new roadway is currently being constructed and utilities relocated in preparation for a future parking garage, as parking demand warrants in future years.
Though we have seen some early signs of recovery in the aviation sector, we know that we still have a long way to go to return to pre-COVID-19 activity levels. We anticipate that passenger volume may not fully recover until 2023 or 2024 at GSP. The speed of this recovery will be highly dependent on how quickly business travel resumes. With over 60% of air travel at GSP reliant on business trips, we know that the level of access and flight frequency available at the airport will be closely tied to when and where companies located in the Upstate region travel. To ensure that GSP maintains quality air service options, it is critical for the nation to re-open, commerce to resume, and for the public to feel confident when they consider choosing air travel.
To that end, GSP remains committed to providing Upstate South Carolina travelers with a safe, clean, efficient, and modern airport offering quality connections to the people and places that matter most to them. Thank you for supporting GSP during this unprecedented time and we look forward to serving you on your next flight from your hometown airport.