Reaching Beyond Airport Boundaries- Aerolease Article

Reaching Beyond Airport Boundaries

How effective collaboration creates healthier airports

BY CURT CASTAGNA

An increasing number of general aviation airports and businesses are realizing the benefits of addressing complex economic challenges and opportunities together. Close collaboration and communication among the airport and its key stakeholders are catalysts for positive economic growth.

When airport sponsors, tenants, public officials, and local business and community leaders work jointly to achieve a common goal, a strong public-private “business support team” is formed. Its ultimate mission is to achieve a healthy, diverse and robust airport that supports economic development and job creation for the entire region.

Economic activity drives aviation demand

FAA’s 2015-2035 forecast shows optimism that, as the economy recovers from the most serious economic downturn since World War II, business aviation will continue to grow over the long term.

According to the forecast, in 2014, the turbojet sector recorded its first increase in deliveries by U.S. manufacturers since 2008. Single-engine piston deliveries also increased for the third year in a row. As the fleet grows, the number of general aviation hours flown is projected to increase an average of 1.4 percent per year through 2035.

Clearly, demand for aviation is driven by economic activity. Bringing together public, private and community resources to retain and attract business to airports contributes to the overall sustainability of local, regional and airport economies.

Keys to successful relationship-building

Collaboration in complex and dynamic environments such as airports can be challenging among groups whose goals may often seem to conflict. A key to building effective stakeholder relationships is to identify common goals that rise above individual agendas.

“The overarching importance of airport advocacy is to build strong and lasting personal relationships with key individuals and stakeholders well in advance of any crisis,” said Chris Kunze, former Long Beach (California) Airport director. “This approach takes time and effort, and a truly successful advocacy program is proactive from both a relationship-building and strategic standpoint. This means that you anticipate events and are prepared to deal with them, not desperate to resolve them.”

Public-private partnerships are most effective when they cross airport boundaries and are embraced by both internal and external stakeholders. Individuals and groups advocating for healthier, stronger airports should focus on five main areas.

  1. Understanding policies versus economics

Airport businesses face the fundamental challenge of enlightening airport managers and public policymakers of the challenges faced by the private sector. In turn, airport managers should strive to work collaboratively with airport businesses, fostering working relationships within the existing public sector and political environment. For example, why are minimum standards and healthy development and leasing policies vital to achieving both airport and community goals? While “highest and best use” may appear to maximize profitability for airports, an examination of current market conditions may indicate that “metered development” is the best way to protect current tenants and jobs at the airport. To navigate policy issues and establish best practices, airports across the nation have formed working groups comprised of individuals with broad airport, business and political experience. In an environment of mutual respect and trust, they work collectively to define and articulate common goals and issues, build internal and external support, and orchestrate meaningful change for the overall benefit of the airport and community.

  1. Linking business and community leaders to the economic base

Airports offer the opportunity for business, government and community leaders to partner on job creation and economic incentives. While airports provide a base for aircraft and aviation support services, virtually all have developed non-aviation commercial facilities and businesses. A current trend is for airports and cities to diversify their revenue sources and pursue mixed-use and commercial development projects, such as retail and business centers, technical parks, industrial facilities and light manufacturing. Local residents generally are supportive of non-aviation development projects that create employment opportunities but have minimal or no noise, traffic or other environmental impacts on the community.

  1. Educating elected officials and staff

Forging consensus among key airport, business and community stakeholders is instrumental in winning support from elected officials and their support staff. It is vitally important to keep individuals at all levels of government apprised of the airport’s mission, vision and value. Policy-makers are influenced by having first-hand knowledge of how airports benefit the community, region, state and nation. When presenting a challenge or problem, airport advocates should provide feasible, reasonable and specific solutions. Successful public-private collaboration results in additional resources and new initiatives that enable airports to serve as gateways to economic growth. To deliver a compelling message to elected officials, present information that emphasizes the benefits of a project or initiative to stakeholders. Develop leave-behind documents in hard copy and/ or digital formats for future reference. Above all, find ways to give credit for solutions to elected officials first.

  1. Working with industry and trade associations

A number of constituencies directly impact airports. The most apparent are airport sponsors, tenants and users. Other organizations that influence airport operations and development are state airport associations, regional planning and environmental agencies, and local economic development groups. National aviation trade associations serve as a vital member of the airport advocacy team and a strong bridge to these constituencies. In addition to AAAE, they include the National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and many others. Trade associations conduct research, produce economic impact studies and industry forecasts, and highlight current issues and trends impacting the global aviation industry. They stand as a strong and credible voice for business aviation at home, on the steps of the state capitol and in Washington, D.C. They also facilitate direct access to the policy- and decision-makers who directly impact airport sponsors and businesses.

  1. Serving as an expert source to news media

Working with both trade and mainstream media outlets can help to achieve the goal of creating healthier airports, businesses and communities. Airport sponsors and businesses actively should pursue positive media coverage by pitching news releases and story ideas; positioning airport leaders as expert sources; scheduling interviews with local and national reporters; and arranging editorial board visits or news conferences when needed. Information also can be distributed through social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Airport stakeholders, even with diverse and conflicting viewpoints, should strive to resolve issues at the local level first and avoid negative editorial coverage. Interactions among airport leaders and members of the press should remain positive, with the goal of achieving desired results. The keys to successful media interaction are determining objectives in advance and communicating a clear, consistent message. All media outreach should be conducted cautiously and strategically.

“Developing an advocacy message to deliver to stakeholders, including the news media, is a process,” said Kunze. “There needs to be a clear and consistent message that conveys the value of the airport to the community and within the national air transportation system. It must be focused, unambiguous and sincere.”

Case Studies

Van Nuys (California) Airport

The Van Nuys Airport Association (VNAA) represents more than 100 businesses and 5,800 employees at Van Nuys Airport, one of the world’s busiest general aviation airfields and Los Angeles’ leading business airport. Participants include airport management; aviation and non-aviation tenants; educational and economic development organizations; and community representatives. Through strong and ongoing collaboration, VNAA successfully has addressed critical tenant issues. These include:

  • Aggressive phasing and design of a nine-month main runway rehabilitation project to minimize negative operational and economic impacts on airport tenants
  • Reestablishment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection services under the federal user fee airport program through a public-private partnership
  • Saving the airport’s aircraft mechanics school from closure during severe budget cuts through negotiating an annual $1 per year lease rate, per FAA policy
  • Timely negotiations of reasonable, five-year rental rate adjustments without the cumbersome and expensive appraisal process

Long Beach (California) Airport

The mission of the Long Beach Airport Association (LBAA) is to advance aviation, economic growth and business diversity. The association represents more than 18,000 employees and 200 businesses at Long Beach Airport, which houses private flight schools and fixed base operator facilities, commercial airline terminals, industrial and air manufacturing centers, and other users. Working closely with airport stakeholders, LBAA has delivered positive outcomes to preserve aviation as a vital contributor to the Southern California economy. These include:

  • Overall phasing plan for major taxiway improvements that required work to be performed simultaneously and during both day and nighttime hours
  • Formation of a general aviation noise committee composed of airlines, aircraft operators and owners, and fixed base operators to address community noise concerns
  • Selection of the preferred alternative in an airport-funded geometry study to permanently close two underutilized runways, improving airport safety and enhancing operations
  • Ensuring the consistent application and enforcement of the minimum standards for existing and new tenants to allow businesses to compete on a level playing field

The successes at Van Nuys and Long Beach provide practical tips for ways to foster effective collaboration. Most importantly, long-term success requires continually identifying ways for stakeholders to collaborate. Choose the battles that you can win, and strive to resolve issues at the local level first. Be genuinely open to negotiation and compromise.

Curt Castagna is president and CEO of Aeroplex/Aerolease Group, an airport/aviation development, management and consulting company, and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Air Transportation Association. He may be reached at castagna@aeroplex.net.