SWGA Regional Airport Director Cautiously Optimistic for 2012

Barbara Kieker

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Traffic in and out of Southwest Georgia Regional Airport was up about 3 percent in 2011 as measured by enplanements and deplanements, according to Yvette Aehle, SWGA Regional Airport director.  That's consistent with the 3.5 percent year-over-year growth in arriving and departing passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International through September 2011, reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

"Our passenger volume has remained fairly stable over the last 20 years.  We don't see the dramatic volatility that a city like Las Vegas or Orlando might experience," Aehle said.  

Aehle is cautiously optimistic about the outlook for 2012.  Passenger traffic is largely business-driven, not leisure.  As business health improves, professionals tend to hit the road to visit customers and prospects.  However a stagnant U.S. economy and growing corporate uncertainty, led Global Business Travel Association, an organization of business travel and meetings managers, to predict slower business travel spending growth in the U.S. next year.

Looking for a Bounce-Back at UPS

The second largest airport in Georgia by cargo volume, SWGA Regional Airport is a sorting facility for United Parcel Service (UPS).  Freight from Louisville, Ky. and Columbia, S.C. is directed to Albany and delivered from there by truck or air to eastern Alabama, the Florida panhandle and southwestern Georgia.  

"UPS is our number one tenant and largest revenue generator.Cargo volume for the year has been more affected by the economy than passenger volume," Aehle explained.  

UPS scaled back from five flights at SWGA Regional Airport to three in 2010, due to the economic slowdown.  According to Aehle, the cutbacks were the result of lower online order volumes and general slowdowns as businesses look to cut costs.   Although freight volumes have been moving back up in the last four months, the company will need to see sustained growth in order to get back in expansion mode.

"One growth driver next year may be cuts to the U.S. Postal Service.  If the government cuts back service, then people may turn to freight forwarders like UPS and FedEx to ensure their letter or package is delivered on time," she explained.

New Terminal Construction Slated to Begin

The SWGA Regional Airport, which is owned and subsidized by the city, currently operates out of a terminal building that dates to the late 1950s.  The building is expensive to maintain and has various sections such as a second floor and commercial kitchen that out of compliance with building codes and cannot be used.

"We don't have restrooms past the security checkpoint because when the building was constructed there weren't the security concerns we have today," Aehle said.

Design work on a new terminal building began in early 2009.  After many siting studies, design meetings and contractor bids, a construction bid on the new terminal was approved in late December.  Construction is scheduled to begin in February.

"The new building will be built behind our existing terminal so we will continue to operate throughout the construction.  When the new building is finished, the existing terminal will be demolished and short-term parking will be added on the site," she continued.

Construction of the new terminal building is expected to take 18 months.  Walbridge Aldinger out of Tampa, Fla. will construct the building, which was designed by the LPA Group out of Columbia, S.C.  The project is estimated to cost $10.7 million, of which $3.24 million will be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the remainder will be funded by a one-cent sales tax approved in SPLOST VII.

"For people who have never been here before, the airport is the first impression they have of the area.  The new terminal will feel bigger, with more glass and higher ceilings, and it will have a much more modern and progressive feel," Aehle said.

Once completed, the new terminal will become a gateway that can be leveraged in Albany's economic development efforts.  It will also offer a more pleasant experience for local travelers with shorter security wait-times and improved facilities. 

Supporting the Local Economy; Investing in the Local Airport

"I know air fares out of the local airport can sometimes be higher than fares out of Atlanta, but I ask people to consider traveling out of SWGA if the fare difference is relatively small.  It is much more convenient and you are giving money back to your local community," Aehle said. 

In the U.S., every airfare includes a passenger facility charge (PFC) that goes to the airport of origination and can be used for capital improvements.  The federal PFC program allows the collection of up to $4.50 for every enplaned passenger at commercial airports controlled by public agencies. Airports can only use PFC fees to fund FAA-approved projects that enhance safety, security or capacity; reduce noise; or increase air carrier competition. 

So when you fly out of SWGA Regional Airport, you support the local economy by parking, eating and buying a newspaper at the local airport.  And you also help improve the airport over the long term.

More information on SWGA Regional Airport is available on the City of Albany website at www.albany.ga.us/content/1798/2879/2935/default.aspx.

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.