Friday Editorial: The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is flying high

September 20, 2019

Simply put, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority is soaring these days.
Just consider these facts:
? Jacksonville International Airport was the fastest-growing airport in the country last year.
? In July the airport set a new record for revenue during a single month.
? The airport is well into the design phase of constructing its “B” concourse, which should be completed by December 2022.
? The three other airports operated by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority — Cecil Field, Herlong Recreational Airport and Craig Airport — are all thriving.
“We can’t clear the land fast enough for developers who want in at Cecil Field,” said Mark VanLoh, CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.
VanLoh’s not exaggerating, either: earlier this week Aevum Inc., a major space and logistics company, announced plans to launch small satellites from Cecil Field’s spaceport.
What’s remarkable is that the Jacksonville Aviation Authority is racking up these accomplishments and many more as a self-sustaining entity that doesn’t take any money from the city.
“We’re on a roll right now,” VanLoh recently told the Times-Union Editorial Board. “It’s been a phenomenal year for us.”
And that upward trajectory will certainly help the Jacksonville Aviation Authority in its efforts to address two major challenges: expanding its menu of nonstop flights and establishing international service.
The demand is there
VanLoh said there’s clearly an appetite among fliers for direct service to West Coast cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle; for example, VanLoh noted that the airport’s data shows that 190 people travel to and from Jacksonville and Los Angeles each day — even though there are no nonstop flights between the two cities.
“We’re woefully missing the West Coast from here,” VanLoh acknowledged, “and it’s clear that the demand is there.”
VanLoh said some airlines have indicated an interest in providing direct West Coast flights from Jacksonville once Boeing’s new fleet of 737 Max jets, which were grounded earlier this year because of software issues, are all fully operational and back in the skies.
“They’ve told me, ‘Once we get these planes back up, we’ll have the capacity for West Coast (nonstop) flights,’” VanLoh said.
And there are also promising developments, VanLoh said, in addressing the other gap that Jacksonville International Airport needs to fill: the lack of direct international service.
VanLoh said the aviation authority is working with the JAX Chamber to make headway in establishing international flights.
“All of the consulting experts tell us that we should probably be in line for nonstop European service in the future,” said VanLoh, who pointed out that many Europeans have timeshares in Florida — and are now getting to them by flying directly to Orlando.
More food options on the way
VanLoh told the Editorial Board that the aviation authority is fully embracing the reality that Jacksonville International Airport needs to have more food options available to travelers — and that fliers will soon see a dramatic transformation.
“Right now 65 percent of the services we offer inside the airport are geared toward news and gifts while 35 percent is food and beverage,” VanLoh said. “That’s the wrong ratio, and we’re making the adjustment.”
VanLoh said the airport needs to offer travelers “more health food options — we need more ‘grab and go’ food that people can take on planes. And while our sit-down restaurants are doing great, we need more of them, too.”
VanLoh said that all of the airport’s existing vendor agreements will expire in two years and that “we’re going to re-bid the whole airport and all the food” contracts.
“We’re going to mix things up and get more variety in our food options, including a lot more local flavor,' VanLoh said. “When people walk through our airport, we want them to know they’re in Jacksonville in every way.”
And they likely will, given how successful the Jacksonville Aviation Authority has been at accomplishing its goals lately.
By the Times-Union Editorial Board



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