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Questions Arise Over Large Sums of Money Small Airports are Receiving from CARES Act

Coronavirus Impacting Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — When congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, Mason City’s municipal airport director had no idea he’d be receiving $17,489,416.  That’s enough money to operate the airport for roughly the next two decades.

Dave Sims said, “(We) had to double-check that number.  Especially when you compared it to other similar airports in (Iowa), it was a number that was quite different.”

Fort Dodge Regional Airport, for example, has comparable air service and passenger numbers to Mason City.  Fort Dodge is receiving $669,000 of the $10 billion provided to airports via the CARES Act. 

Des Moines International, Iowa’s largest airport, is receiving $23,117,329.  About 1,500,000 people boarded planes in Des Moines, last year.  The airport recently closed an entire concourse because of the drastic drop in passengers.

Other relatively small airports receiving in the ballpark of $17,000,000 include places like Kearney, NE and Cape Girardeau, MO.  Some experts are calling these disparities a mistake in the math formula that determined the payouts. 

Sims said the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t gone that far. 

“They haven’t said it’s a mistake.  They haven’t drawn that money back, but I think they are taking a second look at it.  We were not the only airport in the country that was affected by this formula and received a large sum of money.  I believe there were 27 other airports around the country that they’re taking a look at, but this is in the legislation from congress.  And so, the FAA really has their hands tied unless congress decides to rewrite their own legislation.”

Regardless, Sims said Mason City Municipal Airport is about to receive an initial grant of $2,400,000.  That represents four-years worth of operating costs at $600,000 per year. 

Sims said, “We’re very grateful for (the funding), and we’re going to try to be the most responsible we can with it and do the best we can with it.”  He said they would examine capital improvement needs that had been delayed in the past.

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