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SLO airport, tourism take hits amid coronavirus pandemic

Daily cancellations at SLO airport amid pandemic
Posted at 9:21 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 02:08:11-04

The coronavirus pandemic and the governor's stay-at-home order has caused people to travel less, which is impacting the airline industry in a big way.

The lack of airline travel is not only putting a strain on the San Luis Obispo Airport, but on the county's tourism industry.

Tourism is the number two economic generator in the county," said CEO Chuck Davison of Visit SLO Cal.

There's plenty of reasons to visit San Luis Obispo County and the community is clearly one that is built around tourism, but the coronavirus has already left its mark on businesses and airlines, as fewer flights are taking off.

"We've seen a dramatic decrease in our passenger traffic. On the order of 80 to 90% at any given time. Right now, we're going to see at least five daily flights reduced in April, but that's still developing," said Kevin Bumen, the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport Director.

In 2019, the airport set a new record for the number of travelers at more than half a million, but for airports and airlines across the country, the coronavirus outbreak has put many operations hold.

Contour Airlines has suspended all flights until midsummer and United is going to be canceling two of its trips to LAX starting April 1 out of the San Luis Obispo airport.

When stay-at-home orders are no longer in place, Bumen said it is too soon to tell when flights and the airport will be back to where they once were. "How long does this event last? If we're still sheltering in place for another month or two I think everything just moves that much further down stream. The restarts are kind of hard to forecast at this point."

While the tourism industry has taken a big hit, Visit SLO Cal is confident that the Central Coast will once again return as a popular travel destination.

"Getting out of this situation, there's definitely going to be some hurdles, but the one thing I'll say is the Central Coast is known for being a destination that's overcome obstacles in the past," said Davison.

On average the airport was seeing about 20 flights a day before the coronavirus outbreak, but just in the last couple of days there has been at least 3 to 5 flights canceled daily.

Davison said Visit SLO Cal is trying to work with local businesses to help them get access to Small Business Association loans and capital, in an effort to keep them open while maintaining their employees.

KSBY reached out to the Santa Barbara Airport for information on changes to flights there, but have not heard back.