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Local airports report higher than expected passenger turnout

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 6:08 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG) - At first glance, Wednesday morning looked like a normal day at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.

“We have had several days over the last 60 days that we have exceeded 2019 numbers,” ECP Executive Director Parker McClellan said.

Although these are far from normal times, officials say the numbers are stronger than projected amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of the milestones is when the governor opened the short-term rentals, the beaches opened, the restaurants with their various restrictions- all that has led to the growth of passenger traffic in our region,” McClellan said.

According to the TSA, national traveler turnout has gone down about 70% compared to this time in 2019, but at ECP officials estimate July will see a drop of about 30%.

“Mask wearing- we’re not requiring it, but we encourage people to wear the masks. If you can’t social distance then we try to encourage the mask wearing,” McClellan said. Officials say it’s especially important on packed flights where social distancing is next to impossible.

“It is required you wear a mask on the aircraft and they have really highlighted here recently some of their filtration systems that they have on board, which all of them have standard VOC filters where the air is exchanged every three minutes from the top to the bottom instead of the front to the back,” Okaloosa County Airports Director Tracy Stage said. He said Fort Walton Beach Airport is doing the best to control what it can. That includes requiring masks.

“We literally mist the entire terminal with a chemical called vital oxide every other night and that’s good to kill any bacteria or virus for up to ten days,” Stage said, but some things are just unpredictable. “It’s almost impossible to project passenger loads even as far out as next month.”

Stage tells us VPS airport has also performed better than expected during the pandemic despite demand plummeting in April.

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