Airport Busy With Improvements, Pursues Passenger Service
BY TED M. NATT JR.
As work on extending the runways at Moore County Airport nears completion, airport officials are preparing to convert the passenger waiting area into an executive lounge while pursuing commercial service through a regional carrier.
“We’ve got a lot on the plate,” said airport Executive Director Steve Borden. “All this stuff is being done for the 2014 U.S. Opens and to make the airport safer and more comfortable for our customers.
“We think of the airport as a gateway to Pinehurst, Moore County and North Carolina.”
Initial discussions with two regional carriers began last fall after John Taws, secretary of the Moore County Airport Authority, attended an airline industry conference in Portland, Maine.
“There is some interest because the airlines want to be best-positioned when the market comes back,” Taws said. “We’re not sure where that’s going to take us at this point. There’s no immediacy here. We can’t put a clock on it yet. This is going to be a long process.”
Moore County Airport has not had commercial service since November 2007, when Delta Air Lines pulled out after providing seasonal flights for a little more than a year.
Delta received local subsidies to provide the service, a situation officials don’t want to repeat.
“There’s no denying that most carriers approach an airport with a hand out to a certain extent looking for revenue guarantees,” Taws said. “That is not palatable to us.”
A study conducted last year for the Airport Authority concluded that Moore County has a passenger market large enough to support additional air service because county residents spend about $110 million annually to fly commercially.
“However, the study alone will not be enough,” the study said. “It is likely (the airport) will have to offer some kind of risk mitigation program, including fee waivers, marketing and even ground handling, to convince another airline to launch service.”
Borden acknowledged that “the model” would have to be different.
“We’re exploring the use of smaller aircraft that can hold six to nine passengers, as well as multiple flights a day so customers have options,” he said. “That’s conceptually where we’re headed. One of the two carriers we’re talking to is very interested in coming here, but we need to continue the dialogue. We haven’t set a hard timeline for getting them here.”
Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Moore County attracts slightly more than 1 million visitors a year and about 85 percent of them drive here.
“Is there a market for commercial service? Yes,” Miles said. “People would use it. They have in the past. But it’s never going to have a substantial impact because we don’t have enough capacity here. I certainly think the airport can grown and evolve. It just needs to find its niche.”
Borden said work on the $107,000 terminal renovation will begin as soon as the Airport Authority secures a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to pay for the project.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of fractional operators coming through the airport and they bring a higher-end clientele,” he said. “We want to recapture the terminal space we’re not using and make it more attractive to our customers.”
The Airport Authority has hired Village Design Group in Southern Pines to do the work.
“We have presented them with a new concept that would convert the space from a commercial feel into an executive lounge feel,” said Vicki Stone, owner of Village Design. “We want it to have a professional look, but we also want to make it more homey and cozy than it is. We want the space to have that kind of ambience.”
In addition to new carpet, tables and chairs, Village Design plans to add Wi-Fi, update the lighting, use warm tones and place the customer service desk against the backdrop of a stone wall.
“I think it will be a great look,” Stone said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Taws said the goal is to have “a fantastic facility” for passengers and their crews.
“We want to provide them with a superior experience in Moore County from the moment they put their feet on the tarmac,” he said.
A study conducted last year by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University found that the Moore County Airport had an economic impact of $35.24 million in 2010 and accounted for 260 jobs in the region.
“The airport is critical to our tourism industry, but it’s also critical to our government contractors and our military,” said Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s very convenient for them to fly in and out of Moore County Airport rather than a commercial facility.”
Coughlin said the study underscores the airport’s importance to the local economy.
“If the airport weren’t here,” he said, “people would notice a pretty dramatic economic void in the community.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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