Revitalization in the Bayou

NEW ORLEANS — A major medium air passenger transport hub, Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) is responsible for three-quarters of all passengers in the state of Louisiana. Newly appointed director of aviation Iftikhar Ahmad (assumed role...

All carriers here have a five-year ‘heavily residual’ lease agreement with the airport; the current agreement expires in 2013. “I would be open to going to a total compensatory lease structure,” says Ahmad.

“If I wean myself off of airline revenues to the extent of 70/30 — if I could lean on airline revenue for 30 percent of my expenses, then compensatory deals create a lot of discretion on the part of management to do things to enhance the value of the customer experience, and to fortify the airport as an asset of the community; especially in New Orleans where a Katrina 2 could come in… I would like to make sure that the ups and downs of the airline business does not rattle the base of this institution.”

Staffing for service
MSY currently employs 114 people, compared with other similar sized airports that employ closer to 250 people, says Ahmad.

“I think we need more than 200, maybe even closer to 250 total people employed here, depending on which services we do in-house and which we outsource,” he says. “Our staffing is very poor; I wanted to tell the folks out there, and our board, from a SWAT analysis point-of-view, it’s a weakness. We don’t have enough staff, and because of it we don’t have control over some things.

“We plan to place a strong focus on customer service by increasing our number of employees and launching an ambassador program with about 130 volunteers; we are also going to have customer service counters throughout the airport for customer relations.”

The staffing shortage here relates to the airport’s concessions, which MSY gets its fair share of complaints about, says Ahmad. The airport is also working with concessions consultant, SI Partners, to see how it can reconfigure the spread of concessions inside the airport.

A blend of projects
The airport is currently in the midst of a half billion dollar capital improvement program that involves terminal renovation work, a concourse expansion, and infrastructure rehabilitation, among other projects.

“We are trying to look at ways to do more capital work, but in a way that the cost per enplanement goes down,” says Ahmad.

“There are a lot of ROI-type discussions going on right now … there are many projects that are underway. This is going to be a very nice facility in about two years. We have restroom renovation projects; a ticketing-lobby project; an external façade project; the expansion of Concourse D is taking place, as well as the many phases involved with an apron rehabilitation program.”

There are currently three projects in the planning stage at MSY. This accounts for $106.7 million in improvements. Projects include consolidated checkpoints, expansion of the West Terminal, and construction of West Annex Gates.

There are three projects in the design phase totaling over $72 million. These projects include expanding Taxiway G, improving the baggage system, and converting Runway 6/24 into Taxiway H. There are 2 projects in the design phase totaling over $9.6 million. These projects include improving the north perimeter road and runway 10/28 approach light relocation.

The airport currently has 13 projects in the construction phase totaling over $209 million. There are a variety of projects ranging from a new communications center to new loading bridges. Two of the projects, the Concourse D expansion project and the consolidated rental car garage project, have a Webcam in operation and can be viewed at
With regard to incorporating the local flavor of New Orleans at MSY, Ahmad says that can happen in many different ways. “I think that can happen by having a lot of local art; live music is something we plan on starting next year,” explains Ahmad. “We will also be doing some things in terms of architectural design elements that reflect the region.

“I want to hire a sort of ‘chief of aesthetics’ here; an architect that specializes in interior design and landscape design. That person would review all tenant submittals and make sure there is cohesion in how the airport looks visually to the traveler, and the local community.

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