QUINCY — When two Cessna 402 airplanes touched down at Quincy Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon from St. Louis and Chicago, not a single passenger disembarked from the planes. In fact, Quincy Regional Airport Director Sandy Shore said it has been days since she has seen a passenger at the airport.
"It has been a ghost town ever since the stay-at-home order was given," Shore said. "I haven't seen a passenger from my view here in my office in several days."
Shore said passenger counts at the airport, which offers daily flights to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, had been on the downward slide even before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued the executive order on March 20 for all nonessential businesses to close and nonessential employees to take refuge in their homes.
"We were still seeing a few passengers, but it was people who were just trying to get home," Shore said.
Even without the passengers boarding, flight crews from Cape Air continue to fly the daily routes to the major hub airports. Shore said those flights will likely continue unless there are changes in the federal guidelines for the Essential Air Service program, which both Quincy Regional Airport and Cape Air are participants.
"Airlines like Cape Air won't get the federal subsidy if they don't fly the number of flights that are in the contract. There is federal legislation that may grant them some leniency," said Shore, who plans to participate in a conference call with Essential Air Service administrators on Friday to learn about any pending changes to the program.
The decline of passengers flying from Quincy Regional Airport has the potential to derail an impressive turnaround for the airport.
"We were doing awesome before the pandemic," Shore said.
In a comparison of the first two months of 2020 compared to the same time period of 2019, the airport had an increase of 227 passengers, with the largest increase coming in February 2020. More specifically, passenger counts in February were up 37% over last year's numbers.
Both the St. Louis and Chicago routes were showing growth from month-to-month. In January, 250 passengers flew from Quincy to St. Louis. In February, that number had grown to 306. Similarly for the Chicago route, 311 passengers flew in January and 373 in February.
Both Shore and Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said they were pleased by the numbers, especially since city officials were unsure how the St. Louis route would be received.
"The St. Louis numbers are running very close to the Chicago numbers, and I think that is because passengers realize that flying from Quincy Regional Airport gives them the best of both worlds," Moore said. "Passengers who are needing to travel to business can get to Chicago quickly and passengers who are wanting to fly using Southwest for vacation or for more leisure travel can use St. Louis."
Both city leaders said they are optimistic that once the threat of the COVID-19 virus is over that passengers will return to the airport.
"I'm sure you have heard it plenty of times, but we are really in unprecedented territory right now. I believe when the passengers are ready to fly again that we will be ready for them," Shore said. "I think a lot of this depends on the traveling public. Thanks to some very generous cancellation policies right now, no one lost their ticket. So if they were able to reschedule their vacation then maybe they will fly then. If they were flying for business events like a conference that was canceled then maybe they will wait a little while longer to book again, but I am hoping that they will."
One thing that may entice passengers to resume flying from Quincy is the chance to fly on the new state-of-the-art Tecnam P2012 Travellers, which were expected to make their Quincy debut on Wednesday with inbound flights from Chicago and St. Louis. The new twin-propeller plane seats 11, including two pilots.
Cape Air company spokesperson Erin Hatzell said the new plane's arrival in Quincy was due to the "coronavirus pandemic."
"Our top priority, as always, is the health and safety of our passengers and employees in each of our communities. At this time, this remains our main focus," Hatzell said in a statement. A timeline for when the planes will arrive in Quincy and when a public open house will be held was not announced.