At Ft. Lauderdale Int'l, the focus is on just-in-time planning, building
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL — William Sherry, A.A.E., director of aviation for the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), uses the word opportunity a lot. His airport sits next to the second largest cruise port in the world, the city has long been a tourist destination, and it's situated perfectly to capitalize on trade with South America. The opportunities exist, he tells you, and the biggest is for intelligent airport growth.
Sherry came to Ft. Lauderdale from the state aviation director's chair. It was a chance to return to his hometown and have an impact on the airport's role in a growing and changing community, he says. It was also an opportunity to work with an airport commission that fully supports an expanding role for the airport. "I've got a 7-0 vote when it comes to expansion," he says.
Toward that end, Sherry and his staff are heading up two major development efforts at FLL ...
• Airport Expansion Plan. A $334 million program that includes a 5,000-stall parking garage; construction of a new Terminal 4; a new access roadway system; refurbishing the three existing terminals; and, construction of a consolidated rental car facility.
• Airport Development Pro-gram. This involves development of remaining acreage on the west side of the airport. Amerijet has leased 34 acres and is building a $20 million cargo-related facility that employs an estimated 1,200 people. Sherry says he has multiple parties interested in the remaining parcels. "We feel that the highest and best use is with cargo development facilities," he explains.
From 1992-1999, airline passenger growth at FLL grew 68 percent to nearly 14 million enplaned domestic and international passengers. It bills itself as the "fastest growing airport in South Florida," comparing those growth numbers to Miami International, which has experienced 28 percent growth since 1992. With that growth, and the corresponding growth at the nearby port, have come demands on the airport and roadway infrastructure — the catalyst for the development programs.
With eleven signatory air carriers having a vote in airport expansion projects, Sherry plays the balancing act of orchestrating just-in-time infrastructure growth with not allowing costs to get out of hand, to the point that airlines begin discontinuing service.
As a result, the Terminal 4 project will come on line just in time with one concourse and nine gates, and have expansion capability to three concourses and 23 gates. "Once this is in place, I can add another concourse like that," says Sherry, snapping his fingers.
A new roadway system is set to be completed in 2003 — the same time the current system is expected to fail. Such planning, Sherry says, is "well-timed."
Despite the ongoing projects, Sherry boasts about the cost structure given air carriers at FLL, which he labels his "compelling argument." That is: Sherry estimates his cost per enplaned passenger to the airlines serving FLL is $4.12; the industry average is above $7, he says, and at neighboring commercial service airports it's as high as $12.
While controlling costs is one way to help contain costs to airlines, another is to offset carrier costs by raising revenues through other means such as retail concessions, parking, cargo development, and a new consolidated rental car facility, says Sherry.
The rental car project, he says, has no downside and has four distinct advantages.
"We found out that the rental car companies and their customers were by far the biggest users of the roadway system. So, we'll have roadway enhancement by getting the rental cars off the roadway.
"We still have to get passengers from the consolitated facility to the terminal. There's a number of different ways we can do that — a people mover system, light rail — and we're exploring those. Another way is rubber tire shuttles which still reduce roadway congestion because of load factors. In either case, any one of these can run on alternative fuels or electricity, so now you've made air quality improvements.
"The third advantage is that right now we have four and a half rental car companies on-airport. There are eight others that are off-airport. By bringing all of those that are off-airport into the same facility, it's going to have a significant impact on customer service. Right now, we anticipate getting everybody into the facility.
"Last but certainly not least is airport revenue. This will be a way of significantly increasing our concession revenues from rental cars because we will be bringing in those off-airport companies."
Construction cost of the rental car facility is $120 million.
CLOSER TIES WITH THE PORT
Another advantage of the new rental car facility, explains Sherry, is that it provides a step in the county's and airport commission's desire to more fully integrate port and airport activities. "The first step might be this rental car facility, where we're going to tie the port terminal together with it."
The next step, he says, could be a direct rail link. The economics aren't there yet, Sherry says, but with the cruise lines continuing to expand, particularly with super liners that can move more than 3,000 persons, the situation could change rapidly. "If you're a transportation planner, this is utopia," he says. "This is what everybody wants: sea, rail, air, highways, mass transit."
Meanwhile, CUTE systems have been installed on board cruise liners to facilitate seamless passenger movement through the airport to the carriers.
Regarding opportunities for non-passenger ties with the port, Sherry says, "You have the second largest cruise ship port in the world at Port Everglades, and more than half of their business is cargo and petroleum."
One obstacle that has emerged for such ties and future economic development at FLL, says Sherry, has been the inability of customs to fund its growth in services needed to meet the demand here. In fact, the county is helping to fund customs services until the issue is resolved in Washington.
"The customs agency has been unable to provide what we need in terms of growth and future growth. What is at stake here is severe economic impact," he says.