MCALLEN, Texas – The director of McAllen Aviation Airport says her airport is doing “phenomenally well” following the downturn in flights caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Elizabeth Suarez gave her analysis to the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service at a news conference held to announce a $5.4 million grant from the federal government. The money is being used to cover maintenance and operations costs.

“We are doing phenomenally well. We are very excited. In April we announced a new service to Monterrey and to Nashville. Right after April and May we announced a new service to Guadalajara, connecting to Vallarta and it is going very well,” Suarez said, when asked how McAllen International Airport is recovering from the pandemic.

“We have seen a 70 percent increase from last year and we are trending from April thru June higher than 2019, which was our highest year on record. It is good story to tell.”

Suarez said she will have a better idea on long term projections come the Fall.

“There were industry projections that this was going to take a lot longer. Leisure travel, like you said, the demand was there and that is what we are seeing now. The true test will be come Fall. Do we see business travel come back? If that comes back we are very optimistic about that will look like.”

Suarez thanked U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez for helping to secure $5.4 million via the Airport Relief Funding process. Previously, McAllen International Airport received $4 million and $3 million in response to COVID-19.

“Airports are a key component of not only infrastructure and economic development but just overall quality of life. We were hit so drastically during COVID. We were one of the first industries to feel a really heavy burden as we worked through this last year,” Suarez explained.

Suarez said the new money is being used for operations and maintenance costs. 

“Even though we did not have many passengers, we still had to ramp up our maintenance costs and sanitation costs… to ensure we were compliant with CDC recommendations.”

CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control.

“It (the $5.4 million) will get us through the next two fiscal years in terms of operations and maintenance costs. We are really good stewards of public dollars and we are proud of that work that we do. We want to make certain that the Congressman knows that his efforts are not without focus.” 

Because the federal government stepped in to help airports during the pandemic, McAllen International Airport did not have to stop its capital improvements projects. The most important of these, Suarez said, will help  address drainage issues on the runway.

“The capital infrastructure development fund continued without interruption. Had we not had these funds we would have halted capital growth and invested that money in operations. This has allowed us to continue,” Suarez said.

Rep. Gonzalez announced the $5.4 million investment at the news conference. 

“The AFP (American Rescue Plan) has now put shots in people’s arms, money in people’s pockets, has kept our businesses open, has got our kids back to school,” Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.

“We have got $5.4 million in this round for the McAllen Airport, and we got some money for every other airport in the congressional district. We received over a billion dollars just to open our schools back up.”

Asked how the City of McAllen will spend the monies, Gonzalez said: “There are guidelines on what they can spend (it on). But, they have a lot of leeway to do a lot of great things, just to improve operations, to make the place safer and to make it a first class facility for our citizens.”

In a news release, Gonzalez said: “As we ramp up travel operations, these funds will help our airport employees, essential workers and travelers transit safely and provide the necessary resources to prevent, prepare for, and respond to circumstances related to the pandemic. This past year we did our part and stayed home to stop the spread, but that meant those in the travel industry suffered as travel slowed to its lowest level in decades. I was proud to support the American Rescue Plan and the relief it provides to South Texas communities and businesses.” 

In a news release, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said: “The American Rescue Plan grant allocation for the McAllen International Airport is going to help spur the airport’s recovery. I’m grateful to Congressman Gonzalez and all of our federal elected officials who helped support a plan that will help alleviate the toll that the pandemic has had on critical transportation infrastructure like our airport.” 

McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, said: “The City of McAllen is committed to going above and beyond to protect the health of residents and visitors who utilize our airport. We will continue to work diligently to ensure that these funds are utilized to continue these efforts.”

McAllen City Commissioner Pepe Cabeza de Vaca also spoke at the news conference. 

“Last year we had a loss of 56 percent of traffic. Now we are going up. Now we are up 70 percent. This money is going to help us recover,” Cabeza de Vaca told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service

“We want to remind the people that they can use the McAllen Airport for all their traveling into Mexico. We have Monterrey, Mexico City, San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, Torreón, and Guadalajara. So, visit us and fly with us.”

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