New travel numbers are out for Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI). The statistics presented at this month's Airport Authority Board Meeting paint a picture of a PTI still recovering from industry-wide pandemic-related shocks. Passenger travel was up 150% in August over the same month last year, but that's down 36% from 2019. Cargo numbers paint a rosier picture, up triple digits over last year's August performance and outpacing 2019 numbers by more than 30%.
Executive Director Kevin Baker says the airline industry has been bolstered slightly during the pandemic by leisure travelers, but he says that's not sustainable.
“Until the business travelers — kind of the road warriors, or air warriors you might call them — get back on planes, it's not going to get back to normal,” says Baker. “We need to get those folks back in the air. We need conferences, seminars, and that kind of thing to get back to happening.”
Once it does, he says things should bounce back at PTI quickly if this most recent spike in COVID-19 cases is the last one the industry has to deal with in the foreseeable future. Even so, he adds, long-term challenges for airlines due to the pandemic remain.
“There is no doubt that there is a permanent impact,” says Baker. “You've got people and businesses that are just not going to travel as much as they used to, and we don't know what that percentage is. A lot of the industry experts are predicting that most airports get to about 80% of normal by the end of this year, and then struggle to return to some new level beyond that.”
Overall, PTI is currently at roughly 70% of where it was in 2019 at this time. Baker says he's hopeful that the last quarter of this year will show some strength.