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Juneau’s airport approves another $1.15M in rent abatement, tenants hope for better summer than 2020

Gary Thompson, who owns Admiralty Air Service, stands in front of one of his planes.
Gary Thompson owns Admiralty Air Service, which offers charter flights throughout Southeast Alaska. His business is one of the Juneau-based operators that received rent abatement from the airport. (Admiralty Air Service)

The coronavirus pandemic took a heavy toll on tourism and, consequently, on Juneau’s aviation industry.

Gary Thompson owns Admiralty Air Service, which offers charter flights throughout Southeast Alaska.

“I love flying,” Thompson said. “I always have. Gosh, I’ve been doing it up here since ‘93 and it’s a beautiful place to fly.”

He’s the only employee of the company, which has two airplanes and a small group of regular customers.

“[It’s] a small company like a lot of the companies that have been going broke around the country,” he said. “I’m just fortunate that I’m able to survive still.”

Travelers start to dwindle

Thompson usually flies around 450 to 500 hours a summer. Last year, he was down to about 400 hours. While that may not sound like much of a loss, he said after paying all his expenses, those last 100 hours make a big difference.

So when business died down last April, Thompson and 10 other Juneau airport tenants signed a letter. They asked the airport to use some of its $21.7 million in federal coronavirus relief to cover their rent payments for the year. In total, for 13 commercial aviation tenants, that’s $1.15 million.

When airport manager Patty Wahto got the request, she and other airport board members worked with the FAA to come up with a plan. Commercial aviation tenants would have to fill out an application to have their rent covered.

“Some of our operators aren’t even turning a proper rotor and this is a big deal because the rent is still due, everything is still due,” Wahto said. “So by at least pulling away from having this rent underneath them when they’re not making money or making very little, due to limited travel, that helps them immensely.”

Airport sends relief

The airport’s board approved the rent relief starting in July of 2020, which was a big help for Thompson.

“It made up for the lost business I had last year,” Thompson said. “That’s for sure.”

The airport’s board recently approved another year of relief for those tenants. Wahto said they’ll continue assessing the need each year and could potentially offer this program through 2025.

“It may very well be that it’s going to take years for a rebound and this is something we can help them with,” Wahto said.

Unfortunately, the program is only available to commercial airlines, which means concessionaires inside the airport were not offered those funds.

Some left behind

Kristi Elliott manages Hummingbird Hollow Gifts, the only gift shop in the airport.

“It was a little worrisome,” Elliott said. “Like how are we going to even pay the rent, let alone the employee payroll?”

Elliott requested the rent relief as well but was denied. The airport did offer to put off her rent until December, but she turned it down because she was able to find other government assistance.

Getting through the year still wasn’t easy. Elliott’s sales went down 75-80%. She said it was lucky the shop had recently moved into a smaller, temporary spot with reduced rent.

“It just kind of all worked out,” Elliott said. “We’ve been applying for every grant that we’re eligible for and by the grace of God, we made it through with those. So we’re just trying to hang in there and hope for better times.”

The summer ahead

Alaska Seaplanes is one of the Juneau-based airlines that received rent relief. Marketing manager Andy Kline said it’s primarily a commuter airline for Southeast, but in the summer, business is bumped up quite a bit by tourism.

“2020 was a tough year,” Kline said. “We have seen in recent months a pick-up in business, heading into the usual, very busy summer season for us. It’s not at pre-pandemic levels at this point, but it’s picking up. So we see a rebound happening.”

Andy Kline poses in front of an airplane. Kline is the marketing manager for Alaska Seaplanes.
Alaska Seaplanes is one of the Juneau-based airlines that received rent relief. Marketing manager, Andy Kline said it’s primarily a commuter airline for Southeast, but in the summer, business is bumped up quite a bit by tourism. (Heather Holt)

As for Thompson, he said he just might have to get creative.

“I’m still a little worried about the summer,” Thompson said. “You know, there’s not going to be any [big] cruise ships again, so no tourism business. I’m going to go out to some of the hotels and bed and breakfasts and try to market because I kind of think there’s going to be a lot of independent travelers this year.”

It’s too early in the season to know how the summer will shake out, but both Kline and Thompson said they’re staying hopeful.

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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