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Published in Economic Development
More Grand Rapids airport layoffs as air travel slowly rebounds COURTESY PHOTO

More Grand Rapids airport layoffs as air travel slowly rebounds

BY Tuesday, August 18, 2020 02:21pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A food vendor at Gerald R. Ford International Airport has notified state officials that 84 temporary furloughs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may become permanent layoffs by Oct. 15.

HMSHost, a Grand Rapids airport tenant that operates food service sites in more than 120 airports worldwide, issued a WARN notice to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity on Aug. 11. The company cited “catastrophic customer traffic declines” as causing the furloughs, while permanent layoffs may be necessary because “the unfortunate (and in March unforeseeable) reality is that it is going to take a significant period for our business to recover,” HMSHost told the state.

In a statement sent to MiBiz, HMSHost spokesperson Shayna Iglesias said for several months the company provided employees benefits and allowed them to use paid time off and sick and flex time.

“We had anticipated being able to return our associates to work as business returned,” Iglesias said. “However, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases nationally has stalled passenger traffic, and there is no short-term end in sight to the economic crisis.”

Iglesias did not specify the positions at the Grand Rapids airport or the number of permanent layoffs company-wide during the pandemic.

Although regional airports are seeing passenger traffic rebound and some officials believe the worst is behind them, air travel remains significantly less than it was a year ago.

The Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport (AZO) reported this week that while passenger travel increased 43 percent from June to July, last month’s passenger numbers were still 78 percent less than July 2019.

Kalamazoo/Battle Creek airport Director Craig Williams said the June-July rebound was a result of American Airlines and Delta Air Lines boosting the number of flights to the airport.

“Kalamazoo is tracking better than the national average and the airlines are returning flights to those markets that are responding to increased service,” Williams said in a statement. “The quicker (Southwest) Michigan travelers return to AZO, the faster airlines will increase flights.”

Gerald R. Ford International’s most recent aviation activity report shows similar numbers. June passenger activity was down 75 percent compared to June 2019, while year-to-date traffic through June was down 47 percent compared to last year.

In early July, Grand Rapids airport officials launched a campaign seeking to ensure travelers’ safety in the airport while traveling during the pandemic, as MiBiz previously reported. This month the airport launched a pilot program using UV machines to disinfect various devices and facilities.

Grand Rapids airport President and CEO Tory Richardson told MiBiz last month that traffic activity is also dependent on the amount of flights offered by airlines.

“The worst part is behind us,” Richardson said last month of air travel activity. “We hit the bottom, started climbing out and we’re making steady progress on that. Hopefully by the end of this year, we’re about 55 percent of where we were a year ago.”

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