That won’t fly!

December 27, 2015

That won’t fly!

By

Ted Burnett

Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption.

– John Stuart Mill, English Philosopher

(1806-1873)

Mobile has long been called “the city of perpetual potential”. To me, this decades-old phrase had always been a theoretical way to somehow explain why the city has repeatedly failed to live up to its full potential, wasting each passing opportunity, while time and the rest of the world march on. Never in my wildest imagination would this concept become all too real, literally. Since Mayor Sandy Stimpson came into office, I’ve been pushing for the Mobile Regional Airport (MOB) to be moved back to its original home at Brookley Field, off Interstate-10 and Michigan Avenue, for a host of reasons. Those with any knowledge of the city would most likely agree. The idea isn’t a new one, just one whose time has come. Last Christmas, I ran an online petition on the website Change.org and I took an ad out on Facebook. My two-week long campaign received over 500 signatures and endorsements from area residents supporting the cause.

I recently learned from two reliable sources, neither of whom are authorized to speak, for the city of Mobile, the Mobile Airport Authority (MAA) or its Board of Directors, that older board members simply refuse to allow the idea, of moving the airport, to be brought up for a discussion in their meetings or for public discussion. These so-called “highly-respected” Mobilians have repeatedly sunk taxpayer money into a bottomless pit at the far end of Airport Blvd. while refusing to face reality. Their actions have never been second guessed. Instead, their insane beliefs hold present-day and all future generations of Mobilians hostage. One of the city’s major assets is being treated like it’s someone’s personal property or business that they can run however they see fit. If this airport were someone’s private business, it would be out of business, by now. With the loss of Mobile’s headquartered banks and corporations to various mergers and acquisitions, over the years, the city doesn’t have the luxury of letting its airport underperform. Airports do more than just serve as a place to catch an airplane, they move people and that generates business. Airports are the single largest investment a city and region make, according to CityLab.com.

“According to John Kasarda, Director of the Center for Air Commerce at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. these include “time-sensitive manufacturing and distribution; hotel, entertainment, retail, convention, trade and exhibition complexes; and office buildings that house air-travel intensive executives and professionals. The close connection between airports and regional development has been noted in several studies. A careful statistical study by economist Richard Green finds associations between airport passengers and both metro population and employment growth, while controlling for other factors that would be expected to shape growth. A second study by economist Jan Brueckner also notes a close connection between airline passengers and regional employment growth, finding that a 10 percent increase in passengers in a metro generates a one percent increase in regional employment. It finds, however, that airports and airline service contribute more to knowledge and service-based businesses than industrial manufacturing. The study concludes that: “the evidence confirms the common view that good airline service is an important factor in urban economic development.””

The Mobile Municipal Airport moved to its current location, at Bates Field, when the Army Air Corps took over Brookley Field with the assistance of Congressman Frank Boykin, in 1938. Bates Field, a former Army air strip, sat all alone in Mobile County far beyond the city limits for many decades. In 1983, the original terminal was torn down to make way for the current one, which opened in 1986. Apparently, there was no discussion at the time of bringing the airport back to downtown Mobile after the U.S. Air Force closed down Brookley Air Force Base, in 1969. The board for the MAA somehow envisioned the town of Pascagoula, MS and the city of Mobile growing together where the airport would serve as the epicenter. Their vision never materialized impart because of “white flight” by residents from Mobile and Mobile County to the Eastern Shore (Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope).

In 2013, I looked up the annual passenger traffic data on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website (FAA.gov) for all three area airports: Gulfport, MS (GPT), Mobile, AL (MOB) and Pensacola, FL (PNS). I was shocked at the numbers while finally having my long-standing suspicions confirmed. Mobile with the largest Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA 595,257) of the three cities had the fewest amount of passengers boarding airplanes (277,432) at its airport (MOB). Pensacola, FL (PNS) the second largest city of the three (MSA 448,991) had over 740,852 passengers, in CY’12. PNS had three times the passenger traffic of Mobile while Gulfport/Biloxi, MS (MSA 238,772) had 394,110 passengers.

I’ve continued to work on this project even after a follow-up story to my petition ran in the media where an anonymous source, cited by WKRG’s reporter Tiffany McCall, as stating that moving the airport would cost the city between “$500mm-$1b.” Tiffany’s report deliberately put a chill on any and all enthusiasm for my project. I later found online a new airport project on the scale of Pensacola’s passenger volume budgeted at $160mm (Mid-Continental Airport, in Wichita, KS). This year, I met with a number of individuals familiar with Mobile’s airport. One of them a longtime board member and a fan of its current location proceeded to give me a recent history lesson on the airport including their repeated attempts to secure a discount carrier to compete with Delta Air Lines, and its near 80% market share of MOB. With great pride, he went on to state that the Mobile Regional Airport had already been approved for a second parallel-runaway, by the FAA. My immediate thoughts were we barely need the first one. I can’t think of a more impractical need or a waste of money than this idea. PNS does three times the business as MOB with its one main runaway. What MOB needs are more passengers and to become the dominant airport servicing this region. It will never happen in West Mobile! This is how out of touch the leadership of this one public board (Mobile Airport Authority) truly is. They’re playing with someone else’s money while living in a huge bubble with grand plans for their irrelevant airport.

Even Mayor Stimpson has quickly jumped on board to the idea of restoring Amtrak rail service along the Gulf Coast while remaining silence on the airport issue. In 2009, a Pew Charitable Trust study was conducted on Amtrak. Pew found that 41 of the 45 routes were losing money and that the government-subsidized passenger-train service was losing on average of $32 per passenger. While traveling by train across the country would be a nice option in a perfect world, should a country $20 trillion in debt make this a priority? Should we continue borrowing more and more money from our children and grandchildren’s future so that we can have another means to travel, today? Surely, there’s a greater need and demand for air travel from an airport that’s more centrally-located over the romanticized notion of rail service.

U.S. Ranking City (MSA) Airport Name Passenger Traffic CY’14 (CY’13)
 98  Pensacola (448,991)  Pensacola International 758,612 (744,259)
149  Gulfport (238,772)  Gulfport-Biloxi International  325,437 (369,597)
162  Mobile/E.S. (595,257)  Mobile Regional 288,376 (287,661)

Source: http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/cy14-commercial-service-enplanements.pdf

By comparison, in 2000, MOB passenger traffic was 389,733 while PNS was 524,811 and GPT 474,866.

With light passenger traffic, Mobile Regional Airport (MOB) has become a dying airport. For many decades, the travelers enjoyed the service of the legacy carrier’s mid-size aircraft, such as, the MD-80, MD-88, Boeing 737 and DC-9. Today, Mobile is primarily served by the smaller, tighter regional jets with their limited headroom, lower overhead compartments and smaller seats that are marketed and operated under the names: American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express through a contract with a third party airline. The Mobile Airport Authority and MOB has all, but forfeited, both, the Eastern Shore and Baldwin County markets to PNS due to its current location, its lack of proximity to either interstate and its longstanding reputation for having higher airfares.

Pensacola (PNS) is leaving MOB in its dust by offering its travelers desired amenities like a newly-built 6-story HYATT PLACE® hotel that’s on-site, covered parking, mid-size jets, more direct flights, more carriers to more hubs and to more destinations. On the other hand, Mobile (MOB) advertises its travelers free Wi-Fi, Cyber Bar/Charging Station, 30-Free Parking, Parking Lot Shuttle service and shoe shining.

In a September 2013 interview with al.com regarding their “unprecedented growth”, Mobile Airport Authority Executive Director Roger Wehner had this to say,

“We’ve got a plan. It’s prioritized. It’s scheduled, and we’re going to execute that plan. We’re going to meet with these airlines and build a robust pitch tailored to meet their needs, and we’re going to attack them.”

In the short term, that means continuing to convene the Air Service Task Force that Wehner said is working diligently to quantify, analyze and truly define the market in support of the airport authority’s business case for new and expanded service.

“The first question (new) carriers have is ‘Do you have the demand?’ and I have no doubt we can show each and every one of them that we have a definite market here to grow.”

For being so right, so certain, where’s some humility in that what the MAA is doing isn’t working? What’s been the outcome at Mobile Regional Airport since? Not much.

In Mobile, it takes twice the energy to get anything done and often the net result is to be dead last! Is this Mobile’s best effort or just another fine example of what the phrase “the city of perpetual potential” really means and why things remain such a mess? Leadership, not!

You can have a certain arrogance and I think that’s fine, but what you should never lose is the respect for the others.

– Steffi Graf, (1969-)

A German former world #1 tennis player.

In presenting this idea, with my own money and on my own time, to Mayor Stimpson, to the Mobile City Council, to current and past members of the Mobile Airport Authority Board of Directors, I have never been met with such a degree of arrogance where absolutely no respect was ever shown to me, to those who signed my petition and the idea was never given a seconds consideration. This is a democracy and you sit on a public board. Please get off, if you can no longer serve the public’s interest. We already know yours.

The Mobile Airport Authority Board of Directors is currently made up of Co-chairman Herbert A. Meisler, Co-chairman Patricia G. Edington, Secretary Thomas L. Busby, Assistant Secretary Michael E. Pierce and Treasurer Joe B. Bullard, Jr. These individuals are your friends, your neighbors, they go to your church, they’re members of your civic and social organizations, let them know how you feel about this issue. Be on the record for Moving Mobile Forward, call them, email them…

Mobile Airport Authority

1891 9th Street

Mobile, AL 36615

Phone: (251) 438-7334

Mayor of Mobile, AL

Wm. Sandy Stimpson

205 Government St.

Mobile, AL 36602

Phone: (251) 208-7395

Source:

$160mm Mid-Continental Airport, in Wichita, KS, http://tedburnett.com/new-160-million-airport-terminal-at-mid-continental-airport-in-wichita-ks/

Aerotropolis.com – AirportCities/About the Author, http://www.aerotropolis.com/airportCities/about-the-author

al.com — Mobile Regional Airport traffic continues climbing; new, expanded routes sought, http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2013/09/mobile_regional_airport_traffi.html

Brueckner, Jan C., Airline Traffic and Urban Economic Development, http://usj.sagepub.com/content/40/8/1455.short

CityLab.com – Airports and the wealth of cities and John Kasarda, http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/05/airports-and-wealth-cities/855/

Federal Aviation Administration website, http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/cy14-commercial-service-enplanements.pdf

Graf, Steffi quote, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/arrogance.html#z8UCFTlzl6wi3VlG.99

Green, Richard, Airports and Economic Development, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6229.2007.00183.x/abstract

New York Post – Amtrak loses 32 per rider, http://nypost.com/2009/10/28/amtrak-loses-32-per-rider/

Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved. “That won’t fly!” by Ted Burnett.

My other essays and videos can be viewed at my website – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – ted@tedburnett.com.

I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: www.thesageofmobile.com