Aviation expert discusses the economic impact in Arizona of more industry layoffs

Posted at 5:17 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 21:52:51-04

PHOENIX — If Congress fails to act soon, the federal bailout for the airline industry will expire. That could mean up to 46 million jobs would be lost this week.

The industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the concern is that it could spell more trouble for the economy overall.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was nicknamed 'The Farm' when it was first purchased back in 1935 because it was way out in the middle of nowhere at the time.

The first terminal opened about two decades later and since then, they have soared.

Last year, the airport saw the highest number of travelers ever with 46 million people. They were one of the busiest in the entire country.

"Sky Harbor has a huge impact on the entire state, specifically the greater-Phoenix area," said Dr. Brent Bowen.

Bowen is a Professor of Aeronautical Science at Prescott's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Bowen and the Rebound Arizona discussed the airport's large footprint on the state. According to Sky Harbor, the total economic impact is nearly $40 billion. They support roughly 270,000 jobs in Arizona with a payroll of $13 billion.

Now, with the pandemic, some opportunities for growth have been grounded.

Sky Harbor officials said they could not say exactly how many jobs remain intact now because it is different for every restaurant, store, airline, etc.

"The human toll is significant, especially as we face this October 1 looming deadline," Dr. Bowen explained. "Because tens of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs. They're not going to spend as much in the community and it's going to have a devastating impact on the employees and their families."

Sky Harbor has 20 airlines that fly in and out.

The Rebound Arizona reached out to the three big names: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Delta Airlines.

They were asked how many employees they currently have in Phoenix and what the plans were for future layoffs.

American Airlines responded and said they employ 8,600 people in Phoenix and plan to furlough, not layoff, about 300 people if the October 1 deadline hits and no changes have been made.

Delta Airlines could not provide a specific number of employees they currently have. They stated in previous interviews that they do not plan on furloughs or layoffs at this time.

Southwest Airlines tells ABC15 Arizona that they employ 4,200 people in Phoenix. They state that, at this time, they do not plan for any involuntary layoffs or furloughs. In fact, Southwest is actually planning two new routes from Phoenix to Mexico this week.

"The airlines are adding new flights and new routes to re-establish some more business," Dr. Bowen said. "Especially in the leisure area."

Dr. Bowen stressed that while the layoffs are concerning for those impacted, he does look to past setbacks and recoveries and has hope.

"We have not had a setback in the aviation industry that did not result in a slow, but steady growth pattern exceeding where it was before," Dr. Bowen explained.

He knows it may take years, but the fact that Phoenix is a prime destination and hosts a large airport, he believes the comeback could come faster for the Valley.