I’m writing from our Small Airports Conference in St Louis. We have nearly 70 attendees with airport directors or senior staff from more than two dozen different airports. That’s one sixth of our total membership! We have some non-members as well.
Smaller airports are facing enormous challenges today. Airlines are pulling service from communities all over the country. Cost concerns are especially acute at smaller airports which have to meet all the rules and regulations faced by larger airports with far fewer resources and staff.
Over these two days we will be talking about almost any issue you can imagine. Security, environment, IT, human resources, operations and fuel supply are all on the agenda. The men and women who run smaller airports deal with each of these and more, day in and day out.
Right now we are talking about customer service among other things. As airlines have pulled back from caring for their customers, airports have had to fill the breach. One speaker just pointed out that discussions with two major carriers recently revealed that their goals are to not have to ever deal with 85 percent or more of their customers. They want those folks to check-in online or at a kiosk, drop or carry on their own bags and all the rest by themselves. It is hard to imagine another customer service business where the company has such a goal. But that’s the way it is in today’s airline industry.
All of this increases pressure on airports. I often say that airports are the public face of aviation in their communities. In many ways, that is magnified in smaller communities. Airlines can fly their main asset 500 mph away from your community, but the airport remains, working to attract competitive air service while having to maintain and improve current infrastructure. That is proving increasingly difficult for smaller airports, requiring all of us to think anew about the future of our industry. I will be writing more about this topic in the near future.