Coronavirus: CARES Act helping Springfield, Urbana airports maintain payrolls

Seth Timmerman, Manager of the Springfield Airport. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Seth Timmerman, Manager of the Springfield Airport. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Airports in Clark and Champaign counties were among the recipients of federal dollars to help offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Elton Cultice, the manager of Grimes Field in Urbana, said the airport received $30,000 via the CARES Act passed by Congress in the spring as COVID-19 first started to spread across the country and beyond.

That is intended to help cover operating expenses.

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“To my knowledge, every airport was offered the money — didn’t have to take it, but it was free money, so I don’t know of anybody that didn’t take it,” Cultice said. “It was 30,000 and we had the opportunity at the start to say we wanted to use it just for operating costs, or use it for operating costs and construction or just construction. If we went down the construction route we had to talk to the Detroit (Air Traffic Organization), and it took a lot more work. So most places, including Grimes, are just using it for operating costs, so it will probably just cover salaries here to keep people working during the slowdown.”

After a spring Cultice described as “terribly slow” because of reduced travel and business activity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, activity at the airport has begun picking back up.

That includes flyers as well as visitors to the Champaign Aviation Museum, the Mid-America Flight Museum off Texas “Restoration Wing,” the Grimes Flying Lab Museum and the Airport Cafe.

In Clark County, airport manager Seth Timmerman said the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport received $69,000 for operating costs and has applied for additional grants for improvement projects.

The money it has received will be used primarily for payroll, meaning Timmerman and the other two full-time employees of the airport should be able to avoid taking pay reductions.

An 86-percent reduction in fuel sales is the biggest financial impact felt so far at the airport in Springfield, which like the one in Urbana is primarily utilized for general aviation.

“That’s kind of your normal ‘Joe’ who doesn’t really do it for business,” Timmerman said. “Then you have your corporate aircrafts, which is like your Lear or Challenger jets, Gulfstreams, King Airs, things like that. Those are usually for business, charter flights. Things like that, just people who are coming to Springfield or Yellow Springs or somewhere local doing business. Or they live here.”

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U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s office announced the FAA awarded $1.1 million in federal grants to Ohio airports, the sixth time federal dollars have flowed to state airports since May.

In all, Ohio airports have received over $112 million in federal grants according to Portman.

“A functioning and effective aviation industry is critical to our U.S. economy,” Portman said in a statement. “During this ongoing coronavirus pandemic, travel has significantly changed leaving the aviation industry in a tough economic position.”

With attractions such as the museums, Cultice said the long-term outlook for the airport in Urbana is “fantastic.”

“Pilots are always looking for a reason to go fly, it’s a very busy, popular place when the weather’s good and pilots can get out and fly,” he said.

Timmerman also sounded optimistic.

“I think if everything continues going how it has out here at the airport and nothing really gets any worse, I think we’ll be all right,” Timmerman said.

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