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"Airports Tackle Service Development Issues At Norfolk Conference"

June 27, 2000 Issue

Airports Tackle Service Development Issues At Norfolk Conference
Airports Magazine

Airports working to improve and expand their air service need to use local
resources such as economic development offices, tourism centers and
convention officials, according to Carol Windham, manager of public
relations and marketing for Birmingham Airport Authority, Ala. Windham
outlined her views from the Airports Council International-North America's
marketing and communications conference last week in Norfolk, Va. She is
chair of ACI-NA's marketing and communications committee. Windham's
Birmingham Airport has had to work hard to develop service given its
proximity, in air service terms, to Delta's hub at Atlanta Hartsfield and
FedEx's hub in Memphis (a city where Northwest is also expanding its already
significant passenger-airline presence).

"We are like any other airport," she said. "We're trying to improve our
current service." Passenger operations last year passed 3 million passengers
a year, up 7% from the previous year. Cargo operations have tripled over the
past 12 or 13 years and the airport is targeting cargo for growth. The
airport completed new cargo facilities two years ago, and is about to launch
a runway extension that will take its main 10,000-foot runway out another
2,000 feet, largely to accommodate fully loaded cargo aircraft "on a hot
summer day." One spur to cargo growth is the nearby Mercedes-Benz plant.

Airlines serving Birmingham include American, Comair, Continental, Delta,
Northwest, Southwest, TWExpress, United, and US Airways. Cargo operators
include Emery, Fedex and UPS. Windham characterized her airport as being at
the "upper end of small airports," and has been working on airlines for more
growth. "When you're looking at a carrier, you want to visit them not just
to do the fun things, but to make it valuable to you and them. You take
information that makes good business sense -- overview of what your
community is all about. Historical information like passenger activity,
everybody has that. But they don't necessarily know about your community,
what your major industries are, [or] what kind of profits" they can make. As
for what kind of contacts to maintain over time, Windham said, "You visit
them as often as you possibly can, but you don't overburden them with
continuous telephone calls; it doesn't make sense." In Detroit, retaining
and attracting service is less of a challenge because of Northwest's huge
hub there and the new midfield terminal under construction. But working with
carriers is still a priority, according to Michael Conway, director of
external relations at Detroit and vice chair of the ACI-NA committee, partly
to help everyone "get through the next 19 months" until the new 90-gate
terminal opens, around December 2001. "Our biggest problem isn't marketing
our airport for additional services. In the short run, our basic problem is
growth" -- handling it for awhile in the confines of the old terminal.
Detroit Metropolitan has broken traffic records in 75 of the past 80 months.
The result can be a cramped and hectic environment, and airport officials
have worked on some short-term solutions. One example involves Spirit
Airlines, a carrier that has complained vigorously about the difficulty of
operating in one of Northwest's fortress hubs. Conway said Spirit had been
operating on three different concourses, and it wasn't always clear even on
a daily basis which one would handle specific Spirit flights. The airport
managed to consolidate the carrier's three concourses into two that are
adjacent. "The importance of that," Conway said, "is they become a more
reliable carrier. If they keep switching gates around," schedules are ruined
and passengers don't feel they can rely on the airline.


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