By Ted Carter
Terminal modernization, a consolidated car rental facility and hotel are among key capital projects the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority will pursue under a 5-year strategic plan adopted earlier this year.
The plan, prepared with the help of Jacobsen/Daniels, a multi-state transportation consulting firm with an office in New Orleans, details strengths and weaknesses of Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and the Hawkins Field general aviation airport, noting both are the primary providers of commercial and private aviation services in the Central Mississippi region. But both airports are failing short of their potential in many ways, Jacobsen/Daniels said.
In the weakness category, Jacobsen/Daniels projected declines in passenger traffic for Jackson Evers through 2030.
The firm further noted multiple deficiencies in employee training and job placement, including flawed communications between management and staff. Communications breakdowns included “a lack of understanding of the skills, training and performance expectations for each position,” Jacobsen/Daniels.
On the strength side, the more than 700 acres of Airport Authority-owned land around Jackson Evers represent “enormous potential” to significantly increase non-aviation revenues. However, progress in leasing the land for commercial development must await completion of further phases of the East-Metro Corridor.
The six-mile Phase I connected Lakeland Drive with Interstate 20 east of Jackson Evers Airport and opened up more than 200 acres of airport land for development. Completion of Phase II will open for development 785 Airport Authority-owned acres that run parallel to the east runway at Jackson Evers. “We have targeted these acres for aeronautical development ranging from aircraft research and development, servicing and maintenance and operations support businesses,” CEO Newman said in a January media briefing.
While the plan is ambitious in its scope, it does not propose how the Airport Authority will pay for the terminal upgrades, rental-car center and other projects. The terminal work and rental car facility have been on hold since Fitch Ratings Service’s spring 2014 downgrade of $39.8 million in bonds the airport had planned to issue for terminal and security upgrades.
Fitch initiated the downgrade on news that Southwest Airlines would be shutting down its service from Jackson Evers. The departure put an approximately $800,000 dent in annual airport revenues and a caused a passenger drop off of 8 percent in 2014. That fall-off led Fitch to maintain the downgrade to BBB+ from an A- rating in an assessment last April. The bonds kept their stability rating, however.
Airport officials will detail the Strategic Plan 2021- A Model for 21st Century Airport Enterprises at public sessions Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Jackson and 2 p.m. in Flowood. The early session is scheduled for the Jackson State University Institute of Government, 101 Capitol St., and the afternoon session at the Ivy Venue, 1170 Luckney Road.
The plan’s unveiling comes as Mississippi lawmakers consider legislation to revamp the Airport Authority’s governing board to include members from throughout Metro Jackson appointed by the governor. However, the Airport Authority board approved preparation of the plan in February 2015, a month after the arrival of new CEO Carl Newman, who previously headed airport operations at Houston’s George Bush International and Phoenix Sky Harbor International airports.
Newman indicated in an interview last spring he is resigned to the Fitch rating downgrade remaining. “I think the rating we have is going to be the rating we’ll have in the future,” he said.
That likelihood could lead the airport chief to recommend Authority board members go ahead with borrowing money for the terminal upgrades and a rental facility that would consolidate rental car maintenance operations with rental car pick-up and drop-of operations. The current maintenance center is situated away from the airport. Rental car pick up and drop off is now on the ground floor of a parking garage next to the terminal.
Jacobsen/Daniels says current facilities can accommodate passenger and air carrier demands for the next 20 years. “Therefore, investments should be focused on preserving operational capacity and increasing space efficiency,” the plan advised.
Under the airport lodging proposal, the Airport Authority would enlist a private developer to design, finance and manage the hotel. “The potential development was determined to be a priority project due to the available land near the terminal core, the growth of hotel options clustered in communities near the airport, and the opportunity to provide lodging convenient” to Jackson Evers, Jacobsen/Daniels said.
The firm recommended a lodging feasibility study to determine “the appropriate hotel standard” for the international airport. “Such a property would require adequate space to provide for parking and arrival and departure logistics to the terminal,” the strategic plan advises.
Hiring a properties manager is the most efficient way to market airport-owned land, Jacobsen/Daniels said, and recommended making such a hire by October. In addition, the plan calls for preparing a package of detailed information on acreage, utilities, access to aeronautical surfaces, access to ground transportation routes, local resources, economic highlights, and other market data for distribution to site selection consultants.
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