Inside the Fence

Take pragmatism, and toss in a dash of enthusiasm ...

John Brantley and his airport, Raleigh-Durham International, are the subject of this issue’s cover story. Arriving in 1977 on a short-term assignment, Brantley never left. He is a native of Raleigh and offers a common sense approach to managing the business of his airport — one of being positive while being direct. Some outtakes ...

On the topic of business aviation at RDU, which he states is an important component, Brantley says, “It fell off substantially during the downturn but since the first of the year it has boomed. General aviation is up about 15 percent since the first of the year. It’s pretty evident to us that business at least in this area is coming back strong. Combine that with cargo being up 20 percent.

“We have two quality FBOs here — Landmark Aviation and Tac Air. They have persevered through the downturn.”

During the economic malaise, RDU has lost some 25 percent of its flights since 2007, and some 10 percent of its passengers. However, it saw a 4.3 percent uptick in March and has regained direct service to Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

The airport for the most part has been operating on month-to-month leases with air carriers since 1977. Even more significant may be its approach to dealing with airlines. At RDU, the airport thinks through what it wants and then communicates it — no need to let the carriers control the process.

Comments Brantley, “We have built up over the years substantial credibility with them, to the point that they understand that we don’t build stuff here as monuments. We want to do things that are cost-effective, and build it right to start with. And we’re not hiring the mayor’s buddy to do the work. That game’s not being played.

“And, our interest is in keeping airline costs low. They are our primary tenants but we are the airport operator. It’s our citizens’ airport.

“We’re trying to accrue revenue from all sources, not get as much as we can from the airlines and then whatever else we need from the other folks. We like the idea of, if you want it; you need it; then you pay for it directly.

“We have run our own parking operation here since 1983. We’re proud of that.”

Then there’s the matter of pre-qualifying contractors prior to putting out an RFP via a request for qualifications, which Brantley says has worked well for his airport.

“What we found is, especially for larger projects, since the law allows us to pre-qualify and since in difficult times more contractors are out there trying to survive, it gives us the ability to at least imply to those that are interested that you better be able to meet the standards.

“Just throwing in a bid isn’t enough. It has brought to us for the most part well-qualified contractors, above the average level that you would see in the public sector, especially in good times.”

Thanks for reading.