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More jobs in jeopardy at Ford airport due to plunging business; car rentals hurt

Avis Budget Group says airport furloughs will continue indefinitely due to the pandemic; conditions have not improved “to the degree we had hoped.’’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A drop in air travel is bringing more bad news for people with jobs tied to Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Avis Budget Car Rental recently announced that 19 employees at Ford airport will have furloughs extended indefinitely. 

Nearly 160 workers in support positions at the airport, ranging from baggage handlers to car shuttlers to food workers, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Ford airport loses 55 jobs due to economic impact of coronavirus on travel

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority has also reduced staff through separations, retirements and resignations. 

Avis Budget Group says Grand Rapids employees placed on furlough during the spring will have those furloughs extended. 

In all, 51 Avis employees working at seven Michigan airports, including Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, were notified that their furloughs may be extended indefinitely. Grand Rapids had the greatest number of employees affected.

“Unfortunately, the financial hardship on the company caused by the pandemic has not improved to the degree we had hoped by this time,’’ a company official notified the state in an Aug. 28 letter under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. 

RELATED: 'Ghost town' atmosphere greets airport patrons; travel plummets 90 percent

Meanwhile, HMSHost announced that airport worker furloughs from earlier this year may be converted to permanent layoffs in October. HMSHost is an airport food and drink provider. Eighty-four workers in Grand Rapids could be affected.

The company says the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the travel and restaurant industries.

“Never in the history of aviation and the hospitality industry have we experienced such catastrophic customer traffic declines,’’ HMSHost Human Resources Generalist George A. Serigos wrote in a mid-August WARN letter.

RELATED: Ford Airport struggles with passenger counts

“The unfortunate (and in March unforeseeable) reality is that it is going to take a significant period for our business to recover,’’ Serigos wrote. 

In June, Swissport announced layoffs of 55 baggage handlers and passenger agents at Ford airport due to plunging air travel.  Swissport provides ground and air cargo services and has a global presence.

Other businesses tied to the airport have also struggled. Spire Hospitality, which operates Doubletree Hotel Grand Rapids Airport on 28th Street SE, announced earlier this summer that temporary layoffs of 98 people would become permanent.

RELATED: Ford airport sees 90% drop in business, recovery could take three years

The Grand Rapids airport, much like other airports across the country, have been struggling with losses directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ford airport normally handles about 14,000 passengers a day, but travel restrictions and coronavirus concerns had traffic in April down by 90 percent. May traffic was off 86 percent.

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