Roundtable panel evaluates Anchorage airport

File Photo/AJOC

The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is using a new tool in its master planning. A roundtable report by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. let four groups of community members and business leaders render their opinion on how the airport is doing.

This is the first time the airport has used this type of public input device. Eleven groups of various sizes answered the same basic questions designed to offer a better understanding of the community’s perspective on the airport’s mission, advantages and disadvantages. The participants indeed pointed out things they liked as well as things they didn’t, and the airport listened.

“I think all in all, this was a good exercise for them to get a sense of what the community thinks about the airport and its operations and its value to the community,” said AEDC President and CEO Bill Popp.

Popp said there have been such roundtables before at AEDC and the airport was taken by the honest and frank nature of the result so decided to try it out. The result was a better understanding of the community’s perceptions over things the airport does, lacks and has no control over.

“I thought that it also demonstrated that there’s a very strong sense that the airport offers a great opportunity for economic growth in Anchorage from the minds of the business community and the community at large,” he said.

Airport Manager John Parrott said this was a good opportunity to use a new tool to see how they stand in the community’s eyes. The normal community involvement comes from online inquiries from the community, legislators and committees. It also participates in surrounding council meetings at Turnagain, Sand Lake and Spenard. The roundtable offered a chance to branch out in a more casual setting to new members of the community and get input from different demographics.

“Councils tend to have certain viewpoints that may not be shared,” he said.

He said the results were very informative but not too surprising, as many confirmed issues that have come up before.

Still, it will serve as valuable feedback while developing the airport’s Federal Aviation Administration-mandated master plan. This will help determine customer needs while minimizing negative impact. Parrott said the airport is still below its 2007 activity levels and looks forward to “growing back to the good old days.”

The airport put a written response to the roundtable on its website, which Popp said is a great indication that the organization is taking these comments seriously.

“Based on the attending public, I think the results were fairly representative of how the community feels about the airport,” Parrot said. “It’s an important economic engine and continues to have a good strong running economic impact.”

The roundtables agreed the airport is overall very favorable with excellent leadership, public relations and maintenance. Visitors liked the look of the building and weather delays were minimal. Parking and prices were also good. The roundtables also found the location good for cargo opportunities, which is something Airports Council International – North America had commented on in a story regarding its recent national airport study.

The survey participants did find areas for improvement though. Among these were long-term parking and transportation issues, including bad signage. Inadequate runway navigation issues, proper aircraft for cargo being bypassed and a grim north terminal. The report also sites problems with the railroad depot as being unnecessary.

The participants also felt the airport needs better communication with the community and business planning, including for technological advances.

However, the airport can’t address every fault that was found. The participants found negative Transportation Security Administration issues, namely that the area is too small and understaffed. Popp and Parrott both said that this is completely under TSA’s control and is not regulated by the airport. Comments have been submitted to TSA.

As far as future investments and developments, the roundtable commented that they felt the long-term marketing and strategic plan should be more robust and proactive with route development, better planning using current assets and with less government interference and using stable funding sources. While the railroad depot is seen to be problematic, they suggested developing the railroad as a better part of the plan with possible transportation opportunities.

For the flights, the report suggests more domestic carriers, international flight development, more carriers to Juneau besides Alaska Airlines and more competition for Hawaiian routes.

The roundtables were asked to look at how they would like to see the airport in the future. Answers came back with better dealings with Kulis, the former Alaska Air National Guard base land, including using the space to support Alaska’s growing film industry. Also noted was another concourse in the north terminal, using the railroad to get downtown from the airport, better parking coverage, better capitalization on freight and increasing manufacturing interests.

Investigation for freight development was also recommended.

The airport responds that it is a self-sustaining enterprise that generates its own funds through rates, carriers, vendors and leaseholders and not by the state or general fund. Popp said this is a common misunderstanding. The airport uses a state-structured governance system.

Most development will need to be met by private enterprise rather than the state, although the state may develop plans that affect airport users. The response states the airport plans to pursue a combination of state and private solutions to meet aviation needs.

The response states the airport is attempting to operate in a more business-like manner within the constraints of state and aviation regulations.

The airport agrees with many of the points brought up and has passed along information to the relevant parties, such as Alaska Airlines. Other points from the roundtable are not feasible or out of the airport’s control, such as carrier route decisions.

Parrott pointed out other issues, like how Kulis’ tenants are decided more by the business community and aviation industry, the airport agrees that the North Terminal is underused and shouldn’t become wasted and that the airlines are responsible for determining air services.

The airport is trying to be more community-minded through council meetings and open communication. The response states, “The airport will continue to try to improve the dialogue with the communities but does understand that while there are few limits on the communication potential, there are limits to the input the communities will have on airport operations and development.”

Both the AEDC report and the response are at the airport’s website


Jonathan Grass can be reached at [email protected].

04/20/2012 - 10:51am