Hartsfield-Jackson moves to defer airline rent

July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are  displayed as Delta customers wait on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are displayed as Delta customers wait on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The measure to put airline rent and landing fees for April-June 2020 on hold until the first half of 2021 got city council approval Monday after the council’s transportation committee voted in favor of it last week.

Airlines will pay the back rent in five payments from January to May of 2021, according to Atlanta airport general manager John Selden.

The rent deferral, which was first proposed by Selden in April, applies to 18 passenger airlines and 19 cargo carriers that have leases with the airport.

Selden last week noted Delta Air Lines has been burning through millions of dollars in cash a day due to the plunge in travel.

Since a 97% drop in passenger counts in April, there has been some recovery in air travel. The Atlanta airport now has about 60% of its normal flights, but passenger counts are still only about a third of what they were before the pandemic, according to Selden, who described the airline rent deferral as “very important to us.”

The airport said in documents submitted to city council that the move is intended to maintain the airport’s financial sustainability, help airlines continue service at Hartsfield-Jackson and to mitigate airlines’ “near-term cash-flow challenges during the worldwide COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Delta and other airlines have received billions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding from the federal CARES Act, and Hartsfield-Jackson received approval for $338.5 million from the federal stimulus funds to help replace lost revenue from the sharp decline in travel.

The airport has also granted rent relief to concessionaires and rental car companies.

Separately, the city council approved a $125 million raft of funding toward a larger project to expand Concourse T with five new gates.

The council also approved a contract amendment to add $3 million for escalator and elevator maintenance at the airport’s Rental Car Center, which is connected to the airport via Sky Train.

That includes $1 million to staff the facility with a dedicated technician 16 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond when people get trapped in an elevator or the escalator gets jammed, which “can potentially endanger customers,” according to airport documents submitted to city council.

The documents cited “frequent failures” in its escalators and elevators at the rental car center, which opened in 2009, and “significant shortcomings” in maintenance, causing the need to replace parts of escalators and look for ways to improve reliability and safety.

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