Fort Wayne International Airport is a little less busy than usual and will continue to be for at least the first weeks of apron improvement construction it says will lay the foundation for its terminal expansion, Project Gateway.

The apron improvements were to be funded with a $13.5 million Federal Airport Improvement Project Grant. They were to take place as an east ramp phase and west ramp phase, and their construction was scheduled to start March 30.

Activity has dropped at FWA despite measures the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority has been taking to provide a safe, sterile environment for arriving and outbound passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our staff works diligently throughout the terminal building and airport campus to continuously provide a safe, clean, and sanitized terminal area for the traveling public,” Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports, said in an announcement.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, we understand the necessity to minimize travel to that which is absolutely required as we are certainly going through some interesting times.”

The authority was encouraging passengers as early as March 19 to stay informed and to contact their air carriers with specific questions about flights.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like all airports in the country, Fort Wayne International Airport is experiencing a reduction in the frequency of flights to and from the airport in April 2020,” Hinderman said in an email.

As a growing number of states have issued stay-at-home orders for all but individuals providing essential services, passenger bookings have decreased on scheduled flights, he said, forcing airlines to make tough decisions regarding the frequency of flights and destinations where they continue to fly.

“As an airport we are determined to continue assisting our passengers conducting essential passenger travel, as well as air cargo flights, the best way we know how, while also preparing for and building towards the future,” Hinderman said.

“If you are a passenger currently booked on a flight and your flight changes or is cancelled, we encourage you to contact the airline you were flying with directly. Our airline partners are doing all that they can to accommodate and assist passengers each and every day,” he said.

“While this is a difficult and unprecedented time, FWA staff remains dedicated to keeping our community flying and connecting people to where they need to go. We look forward to the sunnier skies ahead, and that the Fort Wayne community will continue to enjoy the air service FWA provides when the time is right for them.”

Because the flight schedules on FWA’s website are updated on the first of the month, they did not reflect any changes as of the last few days of March. But, Hinderman said the airport has seen significant reductions for both business and leisure passenger activity.

The International Air Transport Association projected travel restrictions and a worldwide recession brought on by COVID-19 would reduce 2020 global passenger revenues by $252 billion, or 44% below what the industry saw last year.

The Transportation Security Administration reported as of March 30 that 56 of its screening officers had tested positive for COVID-19 during the past 14 days and 22 non-screening employees who had relatively limited interaction with travelers had tested positive for it during the same period.

The only TSA employee testing positive for COVID-19 in Indiana worked 4-8 a.m. at Checkpoint B in the Indianapolis International Airport. The administration’s website showed the screening officer’s last day of work there before being sidelined by the virus was March 17.

A website outlining exceptions to Indiana’s stay-at-home order showed airlines provided essential services, and Hinderman said that included workers handling airport sanitizing.

The cleaning product FWA uses is a spray sanitizer approved for ridding surfaces of the coronavirus. It is wiped across an entire surface after it is sprayed on and it is allowed to dwell there as it air-dries,” he said.

“Staff is wiping down high touch points multiple times daily. This includes doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, ticket counters, seating areas, restrooms, etc. All work is being done by airport authority staff, who have done an excellent job making FWA a safe place for travelers and those shipping goods/receiving goods,” he said.

Staff from a variety of FWA departments have received the cross-training needed to help its custodial department with this task, and Hinderman said airline staff are paying special attention to sanitizing their leased areas at the airport.

Additional precautionary measures taken to reduce COVID-19 risk for staff and the traveling public at FWA include:

• Valet Parking Services have been temporarily suspended and all paid parking lots have been transitioned to credit card only in efforts to decrease person-to-person contact.

• The Airport’s Customer Service Agent program has been suspended through April 12 to aide in the social distancing efforts. CSA services include the FWA Parking Lot Shuttle, as well as luggage and wheelchair assistance to and from the parking lots and within the terminal building.

• FWA’s Hospitality Host program … volunteers that hand out cookies and assist passengers with questions about NE Indiana have been asked to stay home until this pandemic subsides. Prepackaged, individually wrapped cookies will be available for passengers via the Cookie Kiosk located near security exit.

• The Hospitality PAWs therapy dog program has also been suspended until further notice in efforts to socially distance themselves.

• Samuel Adam’s Brewhouse is currently carry-out only.

• Seattle’s Best Coffee is open and carry-out is still available.

• Airport Authority’s office will have limited hours of 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., closed from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. for the lunch hour.

Indiana’s coronavirus response has given travelers more time to replace their conventional driver’s license with a REAL ID that includes security upgrades. Hinderman said the REAL ID was going to be required for air travel as of Oct. 1, but Congress has extended that date to Oct. 1, 2021.

That will be about a year after substantial completion has taken place on the airport’s Terminal Apron Improvement Project. An apron is an area for parking and positioning aircraft near a terminal building for loading and unloading.

The project’s east phase will involve tearing down a couple of existing structures to allow for a terminal ramp expansion and the realignment of a landside service vehicle road and a perimeter road and fencing. It also will involve concrete panel repair and replacement as well as apron grade adjustment.

The long-term parking, credit-card-only lot also will be improved.

The west phase will involve removal of a jet blast fence and grade changes for a couple of ramps it divides. The ramps will be adjusted and see their asphalt replaced with concrete.

“This Terminal Apron Improvement Project will play a significant role in the future plans of our overall terminal improvement project, or Project Gateway,” Hinderman said in an announcement.

“Project Gateway’s mission is to enhance and expand our terminal building to support our region’s growth through a best-in-class airport terminal, and the improvements to the terminal apron will assist us in realizing that,” he said.

As staff adjust to health risks posed by the pandemic at FWA and Smith Field, Hinderman said they are working to have airfields ready at both facilities for increased business as soon as COVID-19 is under control.

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