Director Addresses Airport Misperceptions

KK Snyder

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Cancelled flights, high fares, unreliable service – we’ve all heard the complaints, and likely made some of them ourselves. But at the end of the day, the numbers on the books prove the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport performs far beyond the credit they receive.

Airport Director Yvette Aehle said a major misperception about the Albany hub is that she, or anyone on staff in Albany, has any control over flight schedules or fares. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, she says.

“The airline is a tenant of mine and they lease space from us,” said Aehle of ASA, the single airline flying in and out of Albany, and a Delta Connection carrier since 1984. “Obviously, we work together – they make their schedules and we schedule our people around them. The airport holds the certification to allow us to be open for commercial flights, and ASA determines everything else.”

That isn’t to say that Aehle doesn’t have a huge responsibility. As director, she oversees a $1.3 million budget, 16 full-time employees and 1 part-timer. She also coordinates all the vendors located at the airport, from car rentals to hangar leasing.

“I’m responsible for the safety and efficiency, the capital improvement planning of the airport, the bricks and mortar and all the lights on the runway.”

What Aehle isn’t responsible for are ASA schedules and rates, all set by the airline and completely out of the hands of airport staff. She does, however, come to the defense of the airline when it comes to people who say they won’t fly in and out of Albany because service is unreliable and too many flights get cancelled.

“The perception of ASA’s reliability is that there are too many cancellations, and it’s not true at all,” said Aehle. In fact, between April 2009 and March 2010, there were only 19 cancellations among 1,015 scheduled flights – a two percent cancellation rate. And of those 19 cancellations, 18 were due to weather and one to a mechanical problem, not because ASA didn’t sell enough tickets for the flight as rumors often charge.

“For some people it seems like every time they travel they get cancelled on. Unfortunately, that’s the luck of the draw. ASA has done an amazing job of keeping cancellations to a minimum. When they can fly they do fly.”

With the exception of Saturdays, on which two flights are available, ASA currently offers three flights a day in and out of the Good Life City, down from five offered when Aehle took this position six years ago. She hopes to get back to four at some point.

“People ask about more flights from ASA, but ASA won’t make that decision until they see passengers exceed their current opportunities,” Aehle explained. “Airlines are very shrewd business people and until we fill up the airplanes we have, we won’t be able to ask ASA for more flights.”

Though the economy made last year one of the worst regarding the number of passengers using the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport – with the exception of immediately after 9/11 – flights are currently up 18 percent over what they were this time last year. “I hope that trend will continue,” she said.

Aehle is aware that many in the Albany area choose to use other airports to take advantage of lower rates. But using the hometown airport makes good business sense because a portion of the taxes passengers pay for their tickets comes directly back to support the airport in Albany.

“Some days (Albany) fares are very good, depending on the destination,” she said of the ASA/Delta rates. “If you are going to one of their top ten destinations, you are going to find rates a lot more competitive than if going to Oxnard, California or San Francisco.

“Delta is selling you a ticket to stay in their network. If you have to take another airline because Delta doesn’t serve your destination, it’s going to be more expensive.”

ASA/Delta’s top 10 destinations include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Richmond and Washington D.C.