Airport efforts to enhance passenger experience

Thursday, June 2, 2011
City of San Angelo, 06.02.2011
Luis Elguezabal, San Angelo Regional Airport Director

Over the past few years, the San Angelo Regional Airport has undergone significant improvements and more are on the way, including efforts to attract additional airline services and major renovations of the terminal. We are currently working to address a number of air service issues, such as the lack of jet service, need for airline choice and passenger frustration over canceled or delayed flights. These issues are prompting some people to drive to their destination or to other cities’ airports, and that is a serious concern for us and the community as a whole.

A successful airport is vital to any community’s economic prosperity and is a key factor in companies’ decision to locate in a city. In San Angelo, the airport’s total economic impact is more than $91 million a year, according to a study conducted for the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division. With this in mind, the San Angelo Development Corporation and the City Council in April approved a contract with the consulting firm SH&E for an air service marketing plan for the airport.

The goals of the air service marketing efforts include:

  • Maintaining American Eagle service to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
  • Promoting growth by improving existing services, such as more flights, jet service and better-timed flights
  • Pursuing new service with competitive air fares, including new airlines and markets

To accomplish these goals, the consulting firm is conducting market analysis, research and data collection; identifying and evaluating deficiencies in passenger air service; developing marketing strategies and carrier presentations; and benchmarking our airport against competitors and similarly sized airports. From 2000-07, the San Angelo Regional Airport exhibited strong growth of 5.3 percent enplanements (passengers flying out) on average per year, the third-fastest among its benchmark airports. Those airports include Abilene, Laredo, Waco, Tyler, Midland, Amarillo, Lubbock, Wichita Falls and Longview. After 2007, however, the number of passengers has declined, partly due to Continental Airlines withdrawing its Houston service, fuel costs and the economic downturn. Our benchmark airports have also seen a decline in passengers, as have airports throughout the nation. American Eagle recently cut the 5:40 p. m. arrival and 6 p. m. departure flight at the airport from June 9 to Aug. 22, leaving our community with only three flights to DFW (7:30 a. m., 10:30 a. m. and 3:30 p. m.) and three arriving flights (10 a. m., 3 p. m. and 9:45 p. m.). American cited low passenger load and rising fuel costs for its decision San Angelo is not the only airport to lose American Eagle flights over the past year. Still, we are obviously dissatisfied with American’s decision but are working with the airline to realign the schedule to meet our community needs, especially for those business travelers conducting day trips. Cutting the 6 p. m. departure flight makes it difficult for business travelers to fly in and out of San Angelo on the same day. A central part of our air service marketing efforts is the recently conducted online surveys for business and leisure travelers and paper questionnaires for passengers at the airport. The goal is to understand what type of service the community wants at the airport in the future. Travelers have responded to the surveys and we have collected a significant amount of data to move forward with our marketing strategy. In late June, we will meet with four airlines at an upcoming conference in which communities gauge the airlines’ interest in new markets. One of these airlines has San Angelo on its “wish list. ” A frequent question from citizens is about the possibility of attracting Southwest Airlines to San Angelo. Southwest has been profitable by pursuing a well-defined business plan, and the airline enters new markets that have at least 1 million passengers in the surrounding metro area that can support seven or more daily flights. For example, Southwest entered the Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C., area in March with seven daily flights spread across five different destinations. Greenville/Spartanburg’s metro area population is 1.2 million, compared with 169,000 for the entire Concho Valley. In addition, Southwest recently acquired AirTran and is busy integrating the markets that it gained instead of focusing on adding other additional markets. Airports served by Southwest in West Texas (Midland, Lubbock, Amarillo) are all “legacy points” that the airline has served since the 1970s, and they don’t enter markets like this anymore.

All of these factors point to Southwest not coming to San Angelo, even though the airline has told us they never say never. Our current efforts must concentrate on more likely service opportunities such as major carrier hub service. We are hopeful our June and future airline meetings yield positive results. While we work on our air services efforts, the airport is also preparing to undergo a major renovation designed to accommodate changing safety and security requirements and enhance passenger experience. The airport is often visitors’ first impression of San Angelo and the corporate gateway to the city. Improvements will help the terminal better represent the city as a safe, modern and attractive place to live, work and raise a family. But the renovations will be much more than just aesthetics; they are intended to enhance the overall experience at the airport. In 2007, the San Angelo Regional Airport unveiled its new state-of-the-art concourse with two jet bridges and new architecture. Some remodeling to the terminal building was completed at the time but it did not include improvements to the narrow corridors and cramped baggage/rental car area. Later this year, the airport begins a $4.9 million renovation that is funded mostly by the Federal Aviation Administration and will provide a more open floor plan at the terminal. The project design was completed by Corgan Associates/KSA Engineering. Improvements include a terminal building entrance facelift, replacing the 1955 façade with a modern one that matches the runway side of the terminal. In addition, glass will replace the wall that blocks view of the concourse, allowing people to see arriving and departing passengers. Another significant enhancement for passengers is the expansion from four feet to 30 feet of the passageway from the main lobby to baggage claim. In addition, the baggage claim area will be enlarged, as will the Transportation Security Administration section to prepare for new x-Ray machines that will be required of all airports. The terminal improvements are scheduled for completion in 2013.

As we move ahead, the airport will continue to focus on its mission of contributing to the economic vitality and quality of life in San Angelo, Tom Green County and the Concho Valley by providing high-quality aviation services and facilities. Thank you for your continued support of the San Angelo Regional Airport.