Time To Get Local

ATLANTA — Kelly Johnson, A.A.E., director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, was named the incoming chair of the American Association of Airport Executives during its recent annual meeting here. During the event, she sat with airport business...

ab: How would you characterize the impact airline consolidation is having on your market and the system?

Johnson: I understand the economies of scale through consolidation and it can make sense. We actually wrote letters in favor of the Northwest/Delta merger, even though it cost my airport money because it gave up space.

The one thing we are concerned about is pricing. We’re in a primarily business market, even though a small market; a small hub. A premium on the business air passenger is charged routinely. It’s a concern for us.

ab: As we rethink airports, does privatization have a role?

Johnson: I think the private sector has an opportunity to play a large role. Privatization may well be in our future; much more aggressively than we’ve seen in the past. Communities don’t have the money to step up and pay the capital.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the Branson airport and how that plays out. Cities are sitting on assets while trying to take care of their retirement obligations; I won’t be the least bit surprised to see more communities trying to spin off that aviation asset.

If they completely sold that asset it would be a whole separate kettle of fish.

ab: It sounds as though funding is hot on your radar.

Johnson: It’s at the top of my list. We have to come up with new and creative ways to come up with those revenues. And also coming up with new partnering opportunities; I think more public/private opportunities are going to be in our future. Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to get the job done.

ab: Where’s your barometer when it comes to TSA and security?

Johnson: My favorite subject. The Pistole administration understands that they need to have a more collaborative relationship; they can’t be so dictatorial. When they come up with a mandate, there is a cost associated with that mandate. That recognition has to be there. I think we’re seeing more opening to talk about these things.

I think technology is something TSA needs to continue to put in the forefront.

We can’t continue to treat every passenger as though they are the bad guy. Be vetted and be done with it. I don’t want to be patted down in front of my staff and it’s happened. I had the privilege of being on the no-fly list for a few months. Kelly Johnson is a very common name.

ab: A group of managers recently formed a new association for general aviation airports. Do you have any thoughts on that initiative?

Johnson: GA certainly makes up the largest number of airports in the system and are very important to us. It’s going to be difficult to generate any revenues [for the association] to have a substantial impact on the Hill. And it brings to life that we as an organization can be more attentive to the GA community.

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