As Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s shores last week it brought damage and disruption to people’s livelihoods and the entire American economy. Winds of nearly 150 mph battered the coastline as this category 4 storm forced urgent evacuation orders in Lee County and many coastal regions.
The death toll is believed to be at least 100, approximately 451,000 homes and businesses remain without power access in the Sunshine State, and $50 billion is expected in damages.
On top of this, airports such as Southwest Florida International Airport have been used as part of rescue operations, acting as a base for military helicopters despite being closed to commercial passengers across the weekend.
This extreme weather caused significant disruption to airlines nationwide. Several major airports had to close completely, including Tampa International Airport on Tuesday, and Orlando International on Wednesday. In sum, 3,800 flights were cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday alone, according to FlightAware. While Orlando International Airport re-opened on Friday, a further 800 flights were cancelled as the storm made landfall in the Carolinas. Overall, over 9,000 flights had been cancelled across the country leading to hundreds of thousands of passengers being left stranded.
However, despite the disruption, airports such as Southwest Florida International Airport, served as bases for military helicopters and the broader rescue operation, in spite of being closed for commercial use.
Additionally, US airlines have come out to support the rescue and relief efforts. Boeing has committed $2 million to assist with on-the-ground disaster recovery, including a $750,000 donation to the Volunteer Florida Foundation. Allegiant announced a $100,00 donation to the American Red Cross whilst Delta Air Lines has contributed $500,000 to the organisation. The airline has also set up a donation portal to encourage passengers to donate to the relief effort. Further, American airlines are awarding ten bonus AAdvantage Miles for every donation over $25.
Major airlines are also issuing travel waivers that allow rebooking without paying a fare difference. This includes Delta Air Lines, whose passengers can rebook without a fee if the ticket is purchased before October 6, and American Airlines, who are offering rebooking until October 3.
All airports that have reopened have been thoroughly checked for building and airfield damage. Fortunately, authorities gave sufficient advanced warning for all aircraft to be removed from the area and as such, no known damage has occurred to planes in major airports. However, the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport lost a section of its roof, leading to flooding and moderate water damage to a 100-foot section of the main terminal’s ticketing area.
At present, the major concern for airlines is the knock-on effects of cancellations. The usual metric for disruption is that for every 12 hours the airline is down, it takes 36 to get back in operation – to put planes back in rotation and return crews to sequence. However, when an entire airport shuts down that increases to delays of 72 hours for every 12 the airport is inactive.
For Florida’s economy more broadly, there is concern regarding the impact damaged infrastructure and coastlines will have on tourism-centric industries. Such damage will take a significant amount of time to repair and as such visitors to the region may drop which could have further negative consequences for the airline industry.
Oxford Economics expect third-quarter growth in Florida and South Carolina to drop by 3 and 2 percentage points respectively. Laura Ratz, an economist with Moody’s Analytics, commented; “So far, it looks like Hurricane Ian is on track to rank among the more costly natural disasters of recent years.” Meanwhile, ABC News place it among the ten costliest storms in US history.
All regional airports are back in operation this week, with Southwest Florida International Airport’s Wednesday re-opening amongst the latest to recover. Luckily the impact on airport infrastructure has been minimal but it may take some time to get a complete picture of just how much damage has been done.
Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH, AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES