Michael Barth earns honor for his role in marketing, tenant relations
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
TAMPA — Each year, the National Air Transportation Association honors an airport manager with its Airport Executive Partnership Award. Sponsored by AIRPORT BUSINESS, the award recognizes outstanding efforts to foster relationships between aviation businesses and airport operators. This year's winner, Michael Barth, was cited for his work in strengthening Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport during the 1990s. He spent the past 28 years working in the Cleveland airport system, the last ten heading up Lakefront. During the recent NATA Convention, Barth shared his thoughts on various aspects of the industry.
On Burke Lakefront Airport when he took over as commissioner in 1989 ...
As I worked (previously) in airport operations, I became aware of how important service was to the users of the airport. Wright Airlines was at Burke at the time and they also ran the FBO. As a result, the transient aircraft always took a back seat to the airline aircraft, naturally. When Wright Airlines went under, there was really no traffic there.
After Wright Airlines closed down, there was a push to really close the airport. They wouldn't sink any money into it to develop it. The FBO hangars deteriorated and the airfield deteriorated.
When Mike White became mayor in 1989, part of his agenda was lakefront development as well as airport development. The mayor was convinced that Burke was an asset to the city. So, he asked me what we needed to do to grow the airport. I told him we needed to enchance the image and the appearance of the airport to make it part of the lakefront, waterfront development.
We needed to improve the infrastructure — the runways, the electrical system was bad, and we needed an ILS. The mayor says, ’What's this ILS thing?' I explained to him that we had a powerplant 3,000 feet off the end of our runway with smokestacks. The powerplant was vacant, so he told us to take them down.
It took about seven years to get the ILS in; we had to work through a number of issues with FAA. A very difficult project.
On marketing, a major emphasis of his at Burke ...
I also told the mayor we needed to market the airport. He had already given me a green light to do whatever we needed to improve the look of the airport — landscaping, etc. The Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame is only a couple of hundred yards from us; the Great Lakes Science Center is here. We opened an Aviation Heritage Park right off the end of the driveway. We promote all of that together.
So, Burke was now an attractive airport and it was part of lakefront development, rather than an obstruction to it.
On the annual grand prix race held at Burke Lakefront each year ... Ironically, it was the auto races that helped the airport in the mid-80s when there was this groundswell of support to close it. The auto race was probably the premier summer event in Cleveland.
It was a non-aeronautical event, and yet it helped the airport remain an airport. What happened two years ago shows how the car race fits in with the airport. We had the race on a Sunday and in the middle of the race I get a call that the New York Yankees wanted to come in at 7:30 — three hours after the race was to end. I said, tell them to come on in, and we got the airport open and the Yankees came in on a 727. I just made sure all the media knew about it so they that could see that you could still function as an airport and have this race.
On his efforts related to improving FBO relations and, thereby, services to users ... One of the things we did was issue rent credits to Million Air for improvements. They could only be improvements to the infrastructure of the building; they couldn't be cosmetic improvements. We put a limit on the amount of dollars and it could only be for five years.
Still, the money was substantial — $90,000 a year for five years.
Another thing we did together was to market the airport. We went to various conferences, especially NBAA and its dispatchers conference and its annual trade show, and marketed the airport together. We shared the costs. Also, I was in a position to go to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, venues like the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame, and get them to contribute because what we were marketing were the venues and attractions in Cleveland, and the convenience of Burke Lakefront if you wanted to visit them.
We worked together to get industry associations to hold their regional meetings at Burke to create a better awareness of the airport.
I would visit potential tenants with Tom (Slavin, Million Air), in case there were any questions related to the airport.
CAP Michael Barth recently accepted a position as executive director, Lorain County (OH) Regional Airport