Airports play important role in nation’s economy – even in a crisis


As COVID-19 has grown into a global pandemic, business at airports has dramatically dropped off. No airport in the world is operating at full capacity right now. So why are we still at work at CLT?

It’s a question those of us in aviation hear a lot these days. We don’t think we are immune from the coronavirus and we are concerned about exposure and community spread. We are taking precautions to keep our staff and passengers safe.  We rely on everyone to do their part to stop the spread of this devastating disease: stay home if you are sick, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands with soap and water and keep at least 6 feet between you and the people around you.  

The reason we remain open is an airport is an integral part of the nation’s economy and its transportation network. It is an essential business. We know when we sign up for an airport job, we have a responsibility to maintain Airport operations even during a crisis.

Nationally, nonessential businesses have been told to close and thousands of American workers have been told to stay home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. However, many of the Airport’s workers are manning the security checkpoints, providing law enforcement services, and providing the air traffic control tower.

To close the Airport requires federal action. Remember how quiet it was after 9-11 or how hard it was to fly to Europe following the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 2010?

Here are some other things to consider:

  • The Aviation Department cannot tell airlines that they cannot use the airfield or the terminal. If airlines are flying, someone must be here to ensure the runways are safe for arrivals and departures, to load and unload aircraft of cargo, luggage and people and to provide basic services for the people who continue to come into our terminal. There are fewer people right now, but people are still flying.
  • Because people are still flying, it’s our responsibility as airport operators to ensure that computers and other technology continue to power computers, WiFi and flight information displays. Passengers are in the building so we must keep the restrooms clean, provide food and other retail necessities for our customers. We are grateful for our partners in concessions and other areas. They are essential to our operations and to the customer experience.
  • CLT is home to major cargo activities of FedEx, UPS and Amazon. Yes, Amazon. Goods, including the things you buy at Amazon online while stuck at home, travel by aircraft too. Most people don’t realize how critical an airport is in the movement of equipment, the mail, supplies for emergency response or for the merchandise that stocks the shelves of businesses big and small.
  • The Air National Guard is across the airfield from the terminal. If mobilized, we must ensure that the runways are open and safe for our military to fly the C17s and C130s in and out. Each day, CLT’s operations team inspects the runways to ensure they are not damaged and remain safe for aircraft and people.

As American Airline’s second largest hub – the first is Dallas-Fort Worth International – the airline plays a major role in keeping the nation’s transportation network, and in turn the nation’s economy, up and running. While American is the dominant air carrier at Charlotte Douglas with about 90 percent of flights and more than 12,000 workers, seven other airlines operate at the Airport. They all play a role in keeping people and goods moving around the world, even in crisis.

We continue to follow guidance from the Mecklenburg County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep the airport and our customers safe. This public health and CDC guidance has also been shared with our partners, which employ many people who work at the airport.

Transportation is considered an essential function in our economy. We’d argue it’s critical - during a global pandemic and to the nation’s economic recovery. So here we are – from the Aviation Department to TSA to the airlines to the housekeeping team – working hard to keep CLT operational, clean and safe. And, yes, open.