Airport lands $56 million runway grant

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An American Airlines jet taxis on the runway at Laguardia Airport on August 14, 2013 in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis International Airport has landed the largest grant in the United States during the current grant-granting session of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We received one grant for $56 million,” said Mario Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Indianapolis International Airport Authority, “that will be put into our airfield, reconstructing our primary runway that is the one that serves our great partner FEDEX.”

The airport also received an additional $15 million in grants for additional projects including money to improve apron space so that jets can park overnight to be prepared to leave first thing in the morning as passengers depart for vacation locations.

“There’ll be less delays and less maintenance on the runways because new runways require very little maintenance so there will be less delays on aircraft leaving and arriving at the airport,” said Rodriguez. “We’ll get another 20-30 years out of the runway.”

Tonight IIA is prepared to present its budget, fully funded by airport revenues, to the City County Council’s Municipal Corporations Committee.

That 2022 budget comes in at $174 million, up from $166.5 million this year, with capital spending set at $230 million, up from $80 million in 2021.

Included in the spending plan is a budget placeholder of $45 million for a potential new hotel on the airport site.

“We’re looking at the financial feasibility right now for the airport. If it proves to be financially feasible, self-sustaining, build the hotel. If its not financially feasible, the answer would be obviously don’t build the hotel,” said Rodriguez. “COVID has been a transformative event for a lot of industries, including the aviation industry. We’re still looking at it to determine if its financially feasible.”

Cost of a potential airport hotel is estimated at $60 million.

Rodriguez says airport traffic is still down compared to two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic economic slowdown.

“Right now we’re between 70-80% of the passenger loads that have come through the airport in 2019, but before our split was a little bit different. It was 45% business, 55% leisure. Right now it stands at 22% business and 78% leisure.

“What COVID has done is for most sectors it tends to compress time. In other words, it compressed ten years into ten months, so what we’re doing right now would have happened anyway.”

Rodriguez said while the airport’s retail and restaurant sectors appear to be slumping, currently there are enough services on hand to provide for travelers.

“We’ve gotten hit like everybody else, but, we were in the midst of redesigning and bringing about a new terminal optimization area:  new food and beverage, new news and gift, but, that’s still underway but that’s been slowed down by COVID.”

Rodriguez said at the start of the pandemic, the airport had a 400-day operating capitol reserve on hand to weather the economic storm and position itself for growth in the coming year.

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