I must have missed something along the way when it comes to knowing what is going on with all the grumblings about our airport. I thought our airport commission and the staff at Fayetteville Regional Airport were doing a pretty good job, considering the makeup and nature of our community and the challenges that small, regional airports like Fayetteville face from rising operating costs and competition from the larger, more aggressive metropolitan airports.
For business and pleasure, mostly business, I have flown out of our airport dozens of times over the years. Prices have always been competitive and the service satisfactory. The most favorable factor of all has been convenience.
Rarely have I had to travel to Raleigh for a destination — however, when I have had to, it was costlier after accounting for my time, travel, gas and parking. I never have, nor would I ever, choose to fly out of Raleigh for the personal convenience of avoiding layovers.
Besides, from a business point of view, needless effort is time-consuming and costly to a company, though state, city and county governments may not be that concerned about such wasteful spending.
Case in point: Depending on where you live in Fayetteville or Cumberland County, it is about 77 miles to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Raleigh. It takes approximately one hour and 15 minutes to arrive at the terminal in normal traffic. And, as everyone is well aware, there is nothing normal about Raleigh traffic.
At best, you can get your car parked in a remote lot, wait on a shuttle to deliver you to the terminal, and, even if you are in the possession of an electronic ticket, you still face going through TSA’s security before taking that hike to your departure gate.
So, now that we know the routine, let’s say your flight leaves Raleigh at 10 a.m. and you want to arrive at the departure gate at least 30 minutes before that. What time would you have to leave Fayetteville? Let’s see:
Drive to airport (no traffic) — 75 minutes
Park car and shuttle to terminal — 25minutes
Ticket counter or kiosk for seat assignment— 20 minutes
Security with TSA, shoes, belt, laptop —20 minutes
Trek down to departure gate — five minutes
Total time — two hours and 42 minutes
If you need to check your baggage, that’s another 10 minutes. Let’s just say twoand- a-half hours for this exercise. So, to be sitting comfortably at the departure gate by 9:30 a.m., you would have to be on the road by 7 a.m. without complications. This means you would probably have to wake up at least by 6:15 a.m.
That’s time, and time is money. Let’s talk money from a business point of view. I assume that if you are in business, your time is valuable. And, now the decision has been made that you are going to spend 2.5 hours getting to your departure gate in Raleigh.
Let’s evaluate the cost: salary, benefits, etc. If you make $35 per hour x 2.5 hours, that’s $87.50. Now, add a mileage charge of 53.5 cents for 77 miles traveled. That equals $41.20. Multiply those numbers by two because you still have to drive home, and don’t forget to add a modest parking fee of $20. Total cost to the business or government: $277.40.
Now, just how much cheaper was that ticket out of RDU? Is $277.40 plus 5 hours of frustration and anxiety worth avoiding a layover for personal convenience? Not to me. Besides, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the commission or airport staff for an underperforming facility when ignoring the facts and realities of the situation.
The most obvious of these facts is that airlines, like all other for-profit businesses, are not going to come into our market just because we want them to, ask them to or need them to. The only reason they are going to locate their business in Fayetteville is if they can make a profit.
Allegiant Airlines didn’t last six months, and United Airlines, which recently pulled out, really should have known better than to think flying into Washington Dulles International Airport was going to capture the lucrative military market from Fort Bragg. WDI is 27 miles from the Pentagon. That’s an hour’s drive on a good day. The Pentagon is only 2 miles from Reagan International and a five-minute Uber ride. No, I think Fayetteville City Council needs to cut our airport commission, staff and management a little slack and back off the micro-management.
Let our airport succeed or fail of its own volition. After all, we can’t expect an airline company to come in and serve the Fayetteville community if we claim to be an “airline dessert.” Yeah. “Airline dessert.” You remember, just like the food dessert we had out on Murchison Road, where residents didn’t have anywhere to purchase milk, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, or lottery tickets.
In that situation, Walmart came to the rescue in November 2015 by building a Neighborhood Market, thinking it was winning the economic jackpot by developing an untapped market while doing a good deed for the community by serving humanity. In less than three years, Walmart pulled out after acknowledging the reality that forced Winn-Dixie to exit the area in 1998. Not enough people shopped there.
Everyone was sad and disappointed over the Walmart situation, and as a result, many words were spoken and written about the unfortunate nature of what happened. Yet few could produce any evidence that they supported or patronized the store.
Well, the same goes for the airport. If we readily admit that we have a second-rate facility, and if our leadership thinks flying out of RDU is cheaper, more convenient and more enjoyable with greater amenities, then don’t expect the commission, staff or consultants at FAY to effect the outcome. Let’s continue to support the airport commission and upgrade the facility as much as we can afford to. However, shining turnstiles, faster escalators and convenient coffee shops will not entice airline carriers to serve Fayetteville unless they can make money.
A profit, in addition to aggressive, consistent and continual awareness and marketing, is what the airport needs to tell its story. And, everyone needs to tell it — the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation, city officials, county officials, and most of all, the Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.
After all, there are 1,300 to 1,500 new families moving in and out of Cumberland County every month. Most don’t even know we have an airport. Who’s telling them to go to Raleigh? Let’s tell them why they should fly out of Fayetteville. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let’s start telling our story. Fly Fayetteville!