Air service plays vital role in economic development
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
The number of passengers at Montgomery Regional Airport has been surging the past 12 months
and surging is no exaggeration.From July 2014 through June 2015, enplanements were up 14 percent over the same period a year earlier and that 14 percent increase is a difference of about 22,000 passengers. The overall total passenger difference – enplanements and deplanements – showed a 12 percent increase and a difference of nearly 38,000 more passengers.
Those differences are significant. What this positive trend means and after 12 consecutive months it is a well-established trend – airline service could be on the verge of moving to a higher level. A level that might help recruit new companies to Montgomery and retain those all-important existing industries and businesses.Three of those months saw increases topping 20 percent while another month had a 19 percent increase and two other months rose about 14 percent. Only four of the 12 months had increases of less than 10 percent.
“For air service, some of the trends we’re seeing are very positive and may give us the opportunity to parlay that to much more efficient transportation in and out of Montgomery,” said W. Russell Tyner, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “That’s incredibly, incredibly important.”
The upward trend could result in additional direct flights, larger planes and more desirable flight times to and from Montgomery.
“From an economic development perspective, in this day and age business is global,” Tyner said. “You have to have the capacity to be exceptionally mobile to find a community to be satisfactory for new and expanding business.
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“We don’t have publically traded (corporate) headquarters here. I’m not saying that that has anything to do with air service, but if you intend to play on that level you have to have air service that is commensurate with what you can find in other similarly situated cities and regions – otherwise you’re a non-player. That’s how important it is. You don’t even get to the table if I can’t move my employees in and out efficiently, effectively and cost-effectively. Time and distance is money. These are times when travel needs to be easy and rapid so that you can get to Montgomery to conduct business and you get back home.”
Having corporate or even regional headquarters here translates into philanthropic dollars coming and staying in the community. Tyner said that the impact on a community is “tangible; palpable.”
As president and CEO of Baptist Health, Tyner understands the critical role the airport plays in economic development. He oversees the largest private company in the region with 4,550 employees, including contracted services.
“When we recruit physicians or we recruit any other professionals, it’s (the airport) their first and last impression that they get of our community. It’s incredibly important when you step off a plane and when you walk out the front door of the airport – whatever your transportation is – that’s your first impression of a community.”
Tyner said that more direct flights “will make a huge difference.” For Montgomery to be a player for corporate headquarters, “you have to have the ability to go to San Francisco and be back tomorrow …” Tyner said.
It does take much more than air service to recruit corporate headquarters. “If you just have really good air service and not much else – you’re not a real player,” Tyner said. “If you have everything else you need, but don’t have the capacity for efficient or effective air travel – you’re not going to get to the table.”0
Airport passenger totals rise for 13 straight months
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
It was a slight increase – about 1.5 percent – yet it was a significant milestone when passenger totals at Montgomery Regional Airport rose for 13 straight months. That was the first time since February 2004 that the airport had 13 consecutive months of passenger growth.
“We offer a great product with an ever-improving airport experience,” Montgomery Airport Authority Executive Director Phil Perry said in a statement. “Our staff is excited with our growth while enjoying the interacting with passengers.”
From June 2014 through June 2015, enplanements were up 14 percent (about 22,000 more passengers) versus the same period a year earlier. Deplanements jumped 13 percent (about 20,000 passengers) during the June 2014-June 2015 period and overall passenger totals have surged 12 percent (nearly 38,000 more passengers).
“We’re hopeful that our growth will continue,” said Chip Gentry, vice president, air service development for Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery Airport Authority. “We think that the four larger flights a day starting the last third of (August) will push us forward.”
Delta is again flying dual cabins on four of its seven daily flights to Atlanta. Three of those planes hold 65 passengers and one holds 76. The smaller planes have a capacity of 50 passengers. It is the equivalent of adding 1.5 flights per day, according to Gentry.
He credits the rise in passengers to an airport awareness campaign and a cost calculator on the airport’s new website: flymgm.com. “We’re advertising not only locally, but we advertise digitally in the top cities that come here on travel.” The “Change Is In the Air” awareness campaign was launched last year and this year the baggage area was revamped.
The cost calculator gives passengers a true cost of flying, including parking fees and driving time.
“Our load factors are so high it backs up our business case for the need for another airline and we hope one of the airlines will recognize the trending growth and launch service,” Gentry said. “These are exciting times for MGM and the River Region.”
Delta was operating on a 95 percent load factor while American Airlines/US Airways flights to Charlotte were at 88 percent and American flights to Dallas were 81 percent. A third daily flight to Charlotte was scheduled to start in early September.
Gentry said that the goal is a 5 percent increase the rest of the year, which is dependent on American continuing its aggressive airfares and on a stable economy. He noted that the airport has passengers driving from Birmingham to fares that cost less. The majority of the passengers live in Lee County, but fly out of Montgomery instead of driving a shorter distance to Atlanta, Gentry said.