Montgomery Business Journal

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MGM Runway

Master plan takes airport to the next level

April 2015

By David Zaslawsky  
Photography by Robert Fouts

In four years, passengers at the Montgomery Regional Airport are likely to see two new air carriers, some new direct flights, more food vendors and a “better travel experience.”

They will see some touches to the interior of the 110,000-square-foot terminal and will probably have already noticed some changes in the baggage area, including television monitors with advertising.Phil Perry Chester Mallory MGM

Those passengers probably won’t notice that one of the two runways was doubled in length from 4,000 feet to 8,000 feet or that space was expanded to park planes and that some new corporate hangars were constructed to park some larger aircraft.

Those passengers may or may not notice the 187th Fighter Wing that is stationed at Dannelly Field (at the airport), but that wing will most likely still be in operation thanks to the runway extension.

It’s all part of the 20-year, $98 million airport master plan that has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and just as importantly, the Montgomery Airport Authority Board of Directors.

“The airport is the gateway to the city,” said Chester Mallory, chairman of the Montgomery Airport Authority Board of Directors. “When you get off a plane at the airport and head out to Montgomery, it will create an impression of what you have to look forward to. If we can make that first impression (positive), it will enhance the other things in Montgomery.”

A three-person committee from the board is working closely with Montgomery Regional Airport Executive Director Phil Perry and the airport’s Montgomery-based engineering firm, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood.

“It’s a plan – that’s all it is,” Perry said. “It’s like a budget and it changes. You adjust things based on funding; based on things you didn’t see that suddenly crop up; and you go from there.”

Mallory said he hopes that the passengers will have a better experience and that the airport’s revenue increases. “We don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “We can only project it.”

The master plan projects enplanements to reach about 245,000 a year in 2030. There were about 170,000 enplanements last year. The terminal, which underwent a five-year, $37 million renovation, is equipped to handle about 330,000 enplanements a year. That equation could easily change if the last remaining legacy carrier – United – comes to Montgomery.

MGM Airport

Perry said that he and Chip Gentry, vice president, Air Service Development for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery Airport Authority, are talking to some low-cost carriers. The Montgomery Chamber is in a partnership with Montgomery Airport Authority to improve services and attract more business and industry to the area.

Perry said it will be difficult to add a direct flight to Washington, D.C. because it is slot-controlled, but he does expect adding a direct flight to Chicago and perhaps a destination on the East Coast – either Philadelphia, New York or Baltimore. New York/New Jersey is the No. 2 destination for passengers flying out of Montgomery while Philadelphia is No. 3 and Chicago is No. 4. Washington, D.C. is the No. 1 destination.

“Those would still be good numbers,” Perry said. “If you averaged a 4 percent gain … the airlines would absolutely be looking at that. They are looking now because of what’s happened (from August-January).The three current direct flights are to Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C. Additional airline service and more direct flights will be very likely if the current trend of rising passenger totals continue. There was a 17 percent increase in total passengers from July 2014-Jan. 2015 vs. July 2013-Jan. 2014. That translates into a difference of about 15,000 enplanements and a difference of about 30,000 total passengers. Perry expects that increase to moderate to 3 percent to 4 percent gains a month.MGM Airport

Montgomery’s 17 percent gain is more remarkable because the airport has the same number of flights and carriers. When Perry sees large passenger gains at other airports, there usually are more flights and/or more carriers. Delta did add a first-class service and there are later flights arriving to Montgomery.

“An airline is always looking for the next best opportunity where they can make the most money with that asset,” Sixel Consulting Group President Mark Sixel told the Montgomery Advertiser at last November’s Eastern Airports Conference in Montgomery. “There’s a limited number of airplanes out there,” he said. “They stand on wheels and those wheels can be moved to some other airport.”

Mallory said that some airlines require millions of dollars up front to agree to provide service.

One direction that the master plan takes is an emphasis on additional hangars, focused on corporate hangars needed for larger aircraft. The master plan, divided into four phases, calls for 10 corporate hangars at an estimated cost of $7.2 million. It’s about economic development.

“To land corporate headquarters here, we need to make sure that we’ve got the facilities (so) if they want to locate a corporate aviation asset in Montgomery we can handle that,” Perry said. “I don’t want someone willing to put a jet here and saying, ‘I can’t locate the jet there, so we’re going to move somewhere else.’ ”MGM Airport

Almost all of the hangar space is currently occupied except for one that Perry said is “like a car port for an airplane.” The proposed corporate hangars range in size from 56 feet by 178 feet to 150 feet by 150 feet.

In phase I, which ends this year, two corporate hangars are proposed. There are two more corporate hangars and one 10-unit hangar for smaller planes in phase II (2016-2020); two corporate hangars and two 10-unit hangars in phase III (2021-2030); and four corporate hangars and two 10-unit hangars beyond 2030. Increasing the hangar space will also generate revenue, said Perry, who oversees a $4.1 million operating budget.

Doubling the size of the smaller runway from 4,000 feet to 8,000 feet, which is estimated to cost $14 million, serves several purposes. It will enable all the airport’s current airlines – Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and US Airways – to use both runways; it acts as a backup if the 9,000-foot runway is blocked and is a requirement if the Air National Guard based at Dannelly Field transitions from its current F-16 to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. “We would love to keep that unit here,” Perry said about the 187th Fighter Wing. “They are good for the community – pump a lot of money into this community – and they are an excellent fighting squadron.”

The 187th is the airport’s crash, fire and rescue team, providing personnel and vehicles.

The extended runway does add capacity, although Perry said that is not a problem right now. “There are times when it’s very busy out there and you have to sit and wait 20 minutes to cross a runway because there are aircraft in the pattern,” he said. “There are aircraft that are arriving and departing and there are F-16s taking off and landing. It does add capacity – no question – because you have 8,000 feet of runway.”

The airport will be spruced up inside, changing colors or putting some vinyl wraps on columns. “The airport still looks pretty good, but it doesn’t hurt to change some things,” Perry said. The carpet has already been changed once since the renovation ended in 2006.

There are two food vendors – Subway and Montgomery Muggs – and Perry hopes to add some more choices. Perry and Gentry have been in discussions with a food vendor who operates a mini-food court – four food vendors in a small area, Perry said. He would also like to have a gift shop.

If the increased passenger totals continue this year, Perry is more hopeful that he can make a compelling case to food vendors.

He said that the four TV monitors with advertising and wall wraps in the baggage area will double the airport’s advertising revenue from $40,000 to $80,000 or more. Copperwing Design is leading the effort. “That’s if there are no additional advertising sales,” Perry said, noting that the $80,000 figure is on the conservative side.

“One reason we are revamping baggage claims is that it is a place where people spend at least 10 to 15 minutes waiting for their bags,” he said. That’s a captive audience for advertisers.

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