Managing a Small Airport During COVID and Labor Shortages

Small airport management is hardly a walk in the park. The manager’s duties and responsibilities are myriad, and tiny miscalculations can have major consequences. That is just how it normally is, in times of relative stability. It is even tougher at the moment of this writing when a global pandemic and resulting labor shortages are crippling the industry.

With that said, being able to weather unusually strenuous circumstances is the mark of a great small airport manager. Even in these unprecedented times, one can still handle hangar cleaning, aircraft towing, runway maintenance, aircraft care, and general hospitality. They just need a lot of pluck and a little luck.

As with our last article on tips for small airport management, some professional advice would not hurt, either. Here are some tips to help you out:

  • Accept and Adapt

One-and-a-half years later, despite the widespread promotion of safety protocols and access to effective vaccines, the COVID-19 pandemic still rages worldwide. This news is dreadful for members of the airline industry. With fewer flights and a future fraught with uncertainty, what are small airport managers to do?

Arguably the most important thing one can do in this situation is to accept it. One can wish all they want that things were different, and we understand that work is likely difficult and stressful right now. Even so, only through acceptance can you start optimizing your operations for this pandemic-ridden world.

  • Follow COVID Safety Protocols

The next most important thing an airport manager can do is anything that minimizes COVID risk. Send employees home if they test positive or feel unwell. Regularly sanitize commonly touched surfaces and materials. Encourage or enforce social distancing, masking, and hand sanitizer use. These measures and more help create a safer and more welcome environment for visitors, employees, and yourself.

Keep in mind also that disease scientists are making discoveries and breakthroughs all the time. The protocols they advise today may be looser or stricter tomorrow. We advise keeping up with news from reliable sources of the latest research. A good rule of thumb is that you cannot be too careful.

  • Seek and Accept Relief

Due to decreased travel and the general disruption of everyday life, many airports across the United States endured financial hardship last year. Fortunately, the CARES Act of 2020 included $10 billion in economic relief for American airports. Applicants received federal grants to help them pay workers and keep the lights on.

Anyone whose situation has not improved much this year is still in luck. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 set aside another $8 billion in Treasury money for airports. Feel free to apply for an Airport Rescue Grant. There is no shame in asking for assistance during a difficult time.

  • Check for Relief Eligibility First

With that said, not just any airport is eligible for economic relief. As with all such programs, applicants for Airport Rescue Grants must meet certain requirements. Yours must be part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS). You may not be entitled to anything if you already received four times your airport’s annual operating expenses under the CARES Act.

You can learn more on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Frequently Asked Questions page for Airport Rescue Grants. If you are not sure, then we recommend applying for one anyway. We also advise looking for other forms of financial assistance that may be out there.

  • Scale Back Operations as Needed

Balancing the services your small airport offers with the profits you gain can be tough enough in times of relative stability. In these fraught times when traffic is low, making money can be even harder. It does not help that a labor shortage is impacting the entire airline industry.

 If you are short on staff, your small airport may need to get smaller for the moment. Carefully consider which aspects of your operations can be curtailed or cut until you bounce back. Keep the most important services, of course, as well as any that still bring revenue. You will save money and stay afloat.

  • Offer Competitive New-Hire Incentives

A major cause of the current labor crisis across, well, most industries is that workers are losing their patience. The response of many businesses to the pandemic has resulted in many workers refusing to work long hours for wages they deem suboptimal. Cultural commentators are calling it “The Great Resignation.”

Employers typically resort to cutting employee pay during downturns, expecting them to be grateful that they still have a job. Nowadays, they must recognize that increased pay and additional benefits are more effective solutions. If you can make that work within your budget, you will have an advantage over competitors in attracting new hires.

  • Treat Your Employees Well

Payment alone is not always enough to retain employees and earn their trust. Another driving factor for the Great Resignation is that many employees do not feel cared for and about by their employers. If they are asked to give a company their time and energy, they want respect and communication in return.

That assessment is just a generalization. What do your workers want from their workplace? Ask them yourself, begin an open dialogue, and see what you can do. Approach it with earnest interest and give them the dignity they deserve. After all, managers may be the brains behind a small airport’s operation, but employees are the blood.

  • Provide High-Quality Airport Worker Training

When a small airport finds itself short-staffed, the employees may need to wear additional hats. Thrusting them into new roles without sufficient preparation can leave them and your customers dissatisfied. It is true that what must be done, must be done. It is also true that anything worth doing is worth doing right.

If you plan to give your employees more responsibilities, make sure to provide the training they need. This period of decreased business is ideal for this: they will have more time to take courses and get hands-on instruction. If it helps, think of it as an investment in the near and distant future of your enterprise.

  • Stay Positive

All things must pass, no matter how permanent they may seem. The COVID-19 pandemic and the labor shortage will end someday. In the meantime, you need to keep your spirits high, adapt to the best of your abilities, and keep workers and guests safe and happy.

That is the mindset we are maintaining here at Powertow. Even with everything going on at present, we are still doing our best to supply small airports with high-quality aircraft tugs. Shop for great products, like our dual wheel tugs that pull up to 15,000-pound aircraft, at our online store today.

Add Comment