Mayor Joyce Craig has named her new airport director, Theodore “Ted” Kitchens from Houston. In naming him, there was much said about the state of the airport. From reading and listening to comments from the mayor, certain aldermen, and in particular, Patrick Duffy, who was on the selection committee, one would think the airport is in dire straits and needs to be rescued. This is simply not the case.
The truth is the industry has changed significantly since Duffy was chairman of the Manchester Airport Authority in the 1990s. William S. Swelbar, a nationally recognized expert on the aviation industry, recently made a presentation to the Special Aldermanic Committee on Airports. Unfortunately, the mayor did not attend. The information presented would have been valuable in evaluating the candidates for the director’s position.
In his presentation, Swelbar indicated “Air service development is just plain hard. It used to be so much easier. Consolidation, capacity deployment strategies, a pilot shortage, and related issues have changed the landscape. MHT is not alone. Today’s air service environment is anything but the good ol’ days for airports. This economy is different. This business is different. This business cycle is really different. The U.S. airline industry has been transformed from a market share-driven mentality to a profit-driven one. This transformation has forced the airport industry, often, into a zero-sum capacity game when seeking new service. As such the airport is doing as much as it can against this backdrop. Now it is up to the many community stakeholders to work to transform the city of Manchester in the eyes of the airlines.”
The newly-named director has plans for air service that impressed the mayor and her committee. The reality is no airport director brings an airport additional service. It will simply be market forces created by the Greater Manchester community that will drive those decisions. No one should hold unrealistic expectations for the new director. As Swelbar says “The market (not the government) will determine the winner and losers.”
There is no denying that passenger counts have decreased at MHT since the airport’s peak passenger levels in 2005. Southwest Airline’s strategic business decision to serve large hub airports, including Boston, reduced the number of flights at Manchester by more than half. The end of the “Big Dig” and Logan adding five new low-cost carriers didn’t help the MHT either. But in spite of those challenges, the airport continues to pay the bills and improve and maintain infrastructure. The economy surrounding the airport is booming and the airport’s cargo numbers are increasing significantly.
Over the past decade, the airport has consolidated passenger screening checkpoints and made major improvements to the terminal; extended the secondary runway; improved runway safety areas and taxiways; built a new rental car customer service facility, upgraded and added new restaurants and concessions; and undertaken major garage maintenance projects.
Money Magazine analyzed 80 of the nation’s top airports for 2018, using customer experience scores from J.D. Power, reader reviews from travel and leisure, on-time arrival rates, security delays, and traveler amenities. MHT was ranked 14th out of the 80. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport was recently named the “Best Midsize Airport in the Country” by TravelPulse, a worldwide travel trade website. Southwest’s MHT station was recognized as “Ground Operations Station of the Year” in 2016, beating out more than 100 other stations.
None of these achievements would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the employees at MHT. The airport team gives its very best and has endured many obstacles to make MHT what it is today.
I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank those members of the airport team who have worked so hard to make our airport a facility the city and the region can be proud of! I would also like to thank those aldermen who have continued to support these efforts.
It is unfortunate this column had to be written. The mayor and Board of Aldermen should have recognized the accomplishments and excellence of those who have taken our airport to where it is today. The dedication and hard work should have been rewarded. I suppose if the mayor’s stated qualifications for serving on her selection committee are they are local business leaders and fly out of the airport a lot, you end up bringing in someone from the outside with plans to “improve” our airport.
Richard Fixler is assistant airport director, engineering and planning, for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.