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Belfast airport prepares requests for federal COVID relief funds

By Kendra Caruso | Feb 23, 2021
Source: File photo Kenn Ortmann poses next to his plane at the Belfast Municipal Airport.

Belfast — The federal government has made $29,000 available to the Belfast Municipal Airport between both COVID relief packages. The city is still in the process of applying for $20,000 from the first relief package, Airport Manager Kenn Ortmann said. He thinks it will also apply for $9,000 from the recent legislation.

Belfast is one of 31 airports around the state that are eligible for funds from the $9.7 million the federal government allotted under the latest COVID-19 relief package. It can be used to pay employees and for costs associated with operating expenses and debt service obligations.

Ortmann acknowledged that the airport has not been as severely hit as other city departments, but said the funding can help offset previous and future costs, which could translate into the airport's asking for less money from taxpayers.

He is the only airport employee, so it is easy to keep the facility sanitized, and the likelihood of a coronavirus outbreak is low, he said.

The airport must decide what it will use the funding for before it is released, he said. He is still working with the city manager on possible uses for the money and will bring their best recommendations to City Council once details have been finalized.

Ortmann started working for the airport a couple of months before the coronavirus pandemic, he said, so he does not have a long history to determine if use of the airport has decreased during the pandemic.

But the airport still experienced a lot of traffic last summer, despite the virus, he said. He thinks it can be attributed to people experiencing cabin fever and wanting to get out of their houses. He still gets frequent inquiries every month from people interested in renting hangers.

“People are going to want to do some traveling,” he said. “The folks who might have come here and enjoyed a week renting a cottage or a camp someplace that they couldn't do it this past year, they’re going to be anxious to do it again.

“So I am fully expecting this next year to see even more demand and more use of the airport just because people are going to be able to be out and about more as a result of our getting better control of the pandemic; at least I am hoping so.”

Usually an airport can determine traffic patterns by how much fuel it sells, but Belfast does not have a fuel farm, so it is difficult to determine whether traffic has increased or decreased, he said. The city is submitting an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to build a fuel farm this summer.

Ortmann is positive about the future of the airport. He anticipates a lot of traffic this summer as more people receive vaccinations and “we get a better handle on the virus,” he said. He is expecting the fuel farm to bring in even more traffic.

It is unclear when he will bring a proposal to councilors to apply for both coronavirus relief grants, but he knows which funding categories they can be applied to and will use those guidelines to determine the best uses for the funds, he said.

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