The Fayetteville city administration spent more than an hour at a recent City Council work session defending its management of Fayetteville Regional Airport. Mayor Mitch Colvin criticized airport director Bradley Whited for failing to acknowledge that the airport is underperforming. “It’s hard to be open for change if you don’t think something is wrong,” Colvin said.
A panel of officials addressed City Council’s concerns. “If we’re not getting the results we want, we need to change what we’re doing,” said Councilman Jim Arp. He is a retired Army officer but did not mention specifically that Fort Bragg military personnel and their families represent the local airport’s most dependable customer base. Arp said that airport officials should better understand who flies out of Fayetteville.
City Manager Doug Hewett defended Whited’s 22 years of service, noting a North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Aviation study released Jan. 7 that pointed out that Fayetteville Regional Airport generates more than $784 million for the local economy and supports 4,410 jobs.
Over the last 15 years, enplaned passenger levels have increased 95 percent. Fayetteville and Jacksonville, North Carolina, airports, both of which serve military communities, have trended higher in passenger growth than other regional airports. City council members spoke of customer service inadequacies. Councilwoman Kathy Jensen said she enjoys flying out of Fayetteville, but she can’t even buy a cup of coffee in the early morning. Whited said that will change with a full-service restaurant now under construction. Others complained that smaller cities like Wilmington and Asheville airports provide more airline service. Those communities are tourist attractions, and Fayetteville is not.
Whited pointed out that a $40 million terminal modernization program now underway will reduce facility complaints. Fayetteville Regional Airport is spending $19 million in federal grants during the first year of the project. The airport is self-supporting and receives no local tax funds from city government.
“These numbers highlight the importance of Fayetteville Regional Airport and show why area residents should fly local,” Whited said in a statement. “Considering the … time you save to fly out of Fayetteville, customers can’t beat the convenience and customer service of Fayetteville Regional Airport.”
The NCDOT Division of Aviation report brought up by Hewett highlights the economic impact of the state’s public airports. NCDOT said it created the report to help guide future investment in aviation infrastructure and to act as a tool for recruiting future aviation and aerospace industry. The report contains data compiled and analyzed for NCDOT by North Carolina State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education.
Fayetteville received word last month that United Airlines was discontinuing service from Fayetteville to Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport, citing a costly 64 percent average passenger load factor. Eighty percent is considered the norm.
Council members did not discuss the competitive edge Raleigh-Durham International Airport enjoys. American Airlines and Delta continue service here. Nine airlines operate out of RDU.
Local studies indicate about half of Fayetteville fliers choose RDU rather than the local airport. The Fayetteville Area Capture Rate by Airport found that 49.6 percent of Fayetteville passengers chose RDU, 44.4 percent chose FAY, and 5.7 percent selected Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to Airline Schedule data via Fayetteville Regional Airport Market Leakage Analysis (2016) provided by Hubpoint consultant Managing Director Doung Banez.