by David Chapman, Staff Writer
For travelers taking to the air during the holidays, airports might seem hectic, full of energy and people.
Jacksonville Aviation Authority Executive Director and CEO Steve Grossman doesn’t really notice.
“There’s maybe a 5 percent increase,” Grossman said of the holiday capacity. “Normally, we’re at 85 percent (plane capacity). During the holidays, we get up to around 90 percent, so it’s not a big change.”
While it might seem that everyone travels during the holidays, Grossman said the split between the first and second half of the year in terms of overall travelers for Jacksonville is almost even — 48 percent in the first half, 52 percent in the second half.
He credits the area’s strong business travel, both incoming and outgoing, as the main reason. The tourism market locally isn’t as strong and doesn’t tend to attract overseas tourists like other areas of Florida, he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Grossman moved to Jacksonville for the position more than two years ago from California where he served as director of aviation at the Port of Oakland and calls his new home “a special community to live in.”
“I love it,” he said.
As for the airport and its rate of passengers, Grossman said the flight economy largely mirrors both the local and national economies and he believes both will have more positive movement in 2013 and 2014 than in 2012.
Grossman said he wants JAA to be in the position to capitalize on that as well as be prepared for corporate development on JAA land, including at Cecil Airport.
That includes development of a commercial spaceport. In January, the JAA was granted a license by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a commercial horizontal launch spaceport, the first FAA license of its kind in Florida and the eighth in the U.S.
“We think we are going to be in prime position,” Grossman said. “It will be the first that’s in an urbanized area.”
For passengers in 2012, Grossman said changes at JAA will be subtle and effective and will continue to improve the customer experience. For example, he mentioned preferred passenger lanes at security and shorter baggage wait times.
On Wednesday, JAA and Priva Technologies announced the launch of “Flex,” a customer service for expedited access to airport security checkpoints at JIA. It starts Friday and is addition to the existing Preferred Passenger Lane, which allows expedited checkpoint access for premier or first-class travelers.
“It’s big to us,” Grossman said. “We listen.”