Comments Stevens, “I think what I’d like to point out is the degree of professionalism I’ve encountered with everyone I’ve worked with at Boeing. It’s been reassuring. It’s nice to see a company that not only talks about quality but is able to deliver.
“They have done a phenomenal job is a very short amount of time. I do not doubt that they can do what they say they can do. I’ve seen firsthand that they can deliver on what they say.”
Charleston International Airport is actually a tenant of the U.S. Air Force, which recently completed the reconstruction of the secondary runway (3/21) and will rebuild the primary runway (15/33) in 2012.
Explains Stevens, “The Air Force does all the infrastructure. It’s a mutually beneficial deal between the aviation authority and the Air Force. For example, the Air Force provides all the crash/fire/rescue for both civilian and military. On the other hand, we have an FAA control tower because the civilian airport is here. If it weren’t for that, the Air Force would have to have their own tower and staff it.
“We work together very well.”
The authority pays the Air Force via a formula based on 20 cents per thousand gross takeoff weight, according to Stevens. “We collect 20 cents per thousand from the airlines; we keep half of that to support our general aviation airports and we give the other half to the Air Force,” she says.
“The general aviation airports are important because they help to keep the smaller GA traffic away from this airport. There is no civilian flight training allowed here by the terms of the joint-use agreement.” The two GA airports in the Charleston system include Charleston Executive Airport on John’s Island and Mount Pleasant Regional Airport.
Having spent some 24 years employed at a joint civilian/military facility, Stevens relates that the variations in flight activity alone can make managing here a unique experience. Add to that, she says, the experience of working with Boeing as it undergoes the certification process that goes with creating a new airliner.
“It’s been exciting to watch,” she says. “Running an airport is different when you’re dealing with airworthy, certificated aircraft, compared to working with a brand new airplane. There are just lots of different considerations. For example, fueling is very different — there are all kinds of procedures and confined space rescue issues that have to be dealt with by the first responders.
“There are different instrument landing systems that we’ve worked with Boeing on — state of the art things you don’t normally deal with at an airport of this size.”
Here come the passengers
Meanwhile, on the air service development front, Charleston once again has a low-cost carrier entering the local market. In the past it’s been served by Independence Air and AirTran, among others, with the latter pulling out in 2009. The Southwest Effect, however, is expected to be different.
Says Stevens, “Each time we’ve had a low-cost carrier, we’ve seen a significant increase in traffic.
“Southwest is bringing even more to the table than previous carriers did — in a positive way. AirTran had provided good service to Atlanta. The Southwest network is much larger. We’re getting more opportunity to plug into an even larger network.”
Lease terms with Southwest mirror agreements with other carriers at Charleston. Explains Stevens, “Actually we don’t have a lease, we have an ordinance. We issue a month-to-month agreement. We did that several years ago when the properties departments were not available at the mainline carriers. It was really difficult for an airport our size to get the properties folks to the table, so when it came time in 2000 for renewal we went to an ordinance. It’s the same deal; a residual agreement, with all of the same terms and conditions. It’s just an ordinance instead of a contract.
“We have been through several bankruptcies and really didn’t see a whole lot of benefit to the leases that we did have in place.”
The expected surge in passenger growth has caused the authority to move up plans to renovate its 25-year old terminal — what Stevens terms the “modernization” of the facility. Issues including housing TSA, baggage screening, and pre/post-security concessions all need to be addressed in the terminal upgrade.
Many companies associated with civil or military aviation have a presence on the exhibit grounds just north of Paris.
Launches service to Greenville-Spartanburg, Charleston