By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

When COVID-19’s impact on airports comes up in conversation, it’s not likely that Jackson County Airport springs to mind, but it has nonetheless been affected.

In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which included $10 billion in relief to aid airports harmed by the pandemic.

North Carolina’s 72 public airports received $284 million in federal aid. 

Jackson County, one of the state’s 62 general aviation airports, received $20,000 of that money.

“The CARES Act allocated money for airports across the nation, every airport,” said Jim Rowell, Jackson County Airport manager. “The Federal Aviation Administration allocated it based on how big the airport is, how much traffic it sees, payroll and the number of employees according to their scale.”

Asheville Regional Airport received more than $14 million, Macon County Airport and Western Carolina Regional Airport in Andrews both were awarded $30,000.

Jackson’s airport does not have paid employees, but it still has operating costs that would have been covered by revenue lost due the pandemic.

The CARES Act funds will be used to cover utilities and other expenses.

“Everything that goes on from an operations standpoint is still going on,” Rowell said. “My recommendation is that the funds be used for utilities, maintenance of equipment such as runway lighting, related safety devices.”

The airport does not offer commercial flights but can accommodate small planes and helicopters that land there.

Owners landing aircraft at Jackson often pay overnight tie down fees or buy fuel.

The opportunity to land there brings revenue into the county from second homeowners in Jackson County and people vacationing or conducting business in the area.

The facility is estimated to bring $1.3 million in revenue to the county.

Rowell gave an example of how airport business has been impacted.

Last week he received a call from a man who wanted to fly into Jackson County and pick up a machine part in Haywood County.

Rowell informed the man he would have to provide his own transportation, could not rent a room if he planned to stay overnight and would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days if he planned to stay.

The man was unaware of the restrictions and decided not to fly to Jackson.

The airport is owned by the county, operated by the Jackson County Airport Authority and funded with local, state and federal dollars.