While air travel at McGhee Tyson Airport has decreased by 95% since March, the airport will receive CARES Act reimbursement funds to make up for the loss.

McGhee Tyson is expected to receive approximately $25.8 million from the CARES Act, Metro Knoxville Airport Authority President Patrick Wilson said during MKAA’s Finance, Personnel and Insurance committee’s meeting Wednesday afternoon. The funds will be used to keep the airport afloat for three years.

“We were very thankful for Congress for initiating a CARES Act assistance program and including airports in that,” Wilson said.

The CARES Act is a roughly $2 trillion economic relief bill passed by Congress in March, and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.

The airport authority plans to use the economic relief funds for capital expenses, operating expenses including payroll, utilities and debt payments.

“Our intended strategy for the CARES Act Fund is very much in line with the items that are called out within the CARES Act itself,” Wilson said. “In simple terms: We are using the CARES Act dollars over a multi-year period to pay for our continued staffing, and to pay for our debt service.”

Nancy White, Vice President of Finance, presented an updated budget to the MKAA Finance, personnel, and insurance committee meeting Wednesday afternoon. The updated budget was passed by MKAA’s finance, personnel, and insurance committee, and will be voted for adoption by the MKAA Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, May 27. The original 2020 budget was prepared in March, however, the outlook is quite different from when it was first drafted.

The CARES Act also requires the airport to keep its staffing level at a 90% employment compared to March of this year.

Trevis Gardner, vice president of operations, said while they aren’t reducing staff levels, McGhee Tyson airport authority is closely monitoring personnel expenditures.

“We’ve been very aggressive in reducing and managing our overtime expenses as well as keeping our employees engaged,” Gardner said. “We have taken a fine tooth comb to every outsourced contract.”

Work done by outside contractors prior to the coronavirus pandemic was reassigned to McGhee Tyson Airport staff members when feasible, he said. By carefully monitoring human resources expenses, McGhee Tyson has not had to curtail any employee hours or salaries.

“Going into the budget this year, we had projected some additional staff members to add to cope with increased passenger demand … those staff additions have been deferred, and are not included in the proposed budget” he said.

Gardner noted — with only a few exceptions — the airport is not hiring new workers. There are now seven full-time and nine-part time vacancies. With attrition, that number is likely to increase.

Responding to a board member’s question, the CARES act 90% requirement makes exception for employees lost to voluntary resignations and retirements, Gardner said.

Although the airport is in a hiring freeze, the commission still agreed to add a human resources manager position starting in fiscal year 2021 because of long-term staff growth during the past 20 years.

The airport has grown to employ 150 full-time workers and 21 part-time positions. The airport hasn’t had an HR manager since 2001, and the duties have been filled in by several managerial-level positions during the past two decades.

“The organization has grown to a level that we need a director-level position,” Wilson said.

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