Hartsfield-Jackson manager: Full airport recovery could take 2-5 years

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is starting to see a slight uptick in passengers amid the coronavirus pandemic, but a full recovery could still be years away.

Airport General Manager John Selden told an Atlanta city council committee Wednesday that gross revenue from concessions and rental cars at the airport declined by nearly $42 million in the January-to-March quarter compared with a year earlier. The decline reflected just the first weeks of the pandemic.

Since then, more concessions have suspended operations. About 310 of the airport's 347 concessions are now closed, after the airport shuttered Concourses B and E and parts of Concourses C and T in response to airlines cutting as much as 85% of their flights.

Passenger counts declined as much as 97% at the lowest point in April, but have recovered slightly to about an 88% decline year-over-year.

“We expect this to continue as people feel more and more comfortable traveling,” Selden said.

He hopes to see passenger counts recover next year to closer to half the level seen before the pandemic. But he cautioned that a full recovery to pre-COVID 19 levels could take two to five years.

Hartsfield-Jackson handled 110.5 million passengers last year as the world's busiest airport.

Selden said the airport cut rates for its parking decks and lots in half. It now costs $9 and $7 a day at decks and economy parking, respectively. The airport-run park-ride lots are closed due to lack of demand.

The airport has about 250 hand sanitizer machines. The Atlanta Airlines Terminal Co., the airline cooperative that operates and maintains the terminal and concourses, is adding 150 more Georgia-Pacific hand sanitizers with sensors for when the machines need to be refilled.

Airport customer service representatives are handing out face coverings at security checkpoints to travelers who need them.

While it's yet to be seen when travel will recover to necessitate more parking spaces, the airport earlier this year completed a new park-ride lot off Sullivan Road and is constructing a new $224 million ATL West parking deck connected to the airport via the existing Sky Train.

Hartsfield-Jackson has also cut expenses by scaling back on contractors and delaying the opening of its new parking lot, among other measures.

The airport is eligible for $338.5 million in federal CARES Act relief funding, which Selden said will be used to make up for lost revenue. He said the airport will use the funds to pay its bills and employees, and will submit invoices to the Federal Aviation Administration for reimbursement from grant funds.

He added that Delta Air Lines, which has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson, is adding flights back at its hubs.

“Atlanta is going to be one of the major places of recovery for Delta,” Selden said. If the Atlanta airport can get back to just 50 million passengers annually next year, “we think we’ll be in a very good position to have most of the airport open.”