MOBILE, Alabama — Ted Burnett couldn’t shake the nagging impression he felt every time he drove to the Mobile Regional Airport, the area’s major center for transportation by air.
Getting to the place in west Mobile, he believes, is a fairly onerous task that requires a drive down busy Airport Boulevard. A Daphne resident, Burnett, 43, said because of the hassle he often flies out of other airports, and he had the feeling that other people felt the same way, too.
That instinct led him to start a petition to try and move the airport back to the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Burnett, who also writes a blog, started a grassroots campaign waged mostly online that has garnered a few hundred signatures on Change.org and a nod from Congressman Bradley Byrne.
Easy access to the interstate is Burnett’s sticking point. He made a video and wrote a blog post laying out his case: “Brookley has some benefits that west Mobile is never going to enjoy; that the airport in west Mobile was in the wrong place — it’s off the interstate and it’s on Airport [Boulevard].”
It’s been acknowledged, however, that the chances of a move actually happening is unlikely. First of all, how would the city pay for it? Airport officials said they would prefer to create better access to the airport instead.
The idea isn’t exactly an new one. Burnett thought maybe if it were at Brookley again, more people would be inclined to fly from there. But he wanted to see what the Federal Aviation Administration’s passenger data said first.
The numbers supported what he believed: In terms of passenger volume, Mobile Regional was ranked 159th among other airports in the country in 2012, the position where it remained the following year.
Below Pensacola International Airport and below the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport in the ranking, Mobile served close to 288,000 passengers in 2013. Pensacola saw 744,000 passengers leave from its airport; Gulfport saw about 370,000.
Wait, Burnett thought to himself, “there’s a problem here,” he said. “The other two airports, which serve smaller markets as far as people living in the metropolitan statistical area, were doing much more business.”
Skeptics of the idea have pointed out that the business done at both of those airports is fueled by travel to and from military bases – something Mobile doesn’t have. Mark Pelham, a former marketing director for the Mobile Airport Authority, wrote in an op-ed this week that the idea “has more implications than generally thought.”
Pelham said that the plan could hamper growing businesses like Airbus, displace current occupants like Mobile Aerospace, shrinking the space for others to move onto the site.
“I do not expect this question to vanish. Nor do I think it should,” Pelham wrote. “I believe it is essential that we periodically revisit all the key assumptions that determine this community’s choices for moving forward.”
Roger Wehner, the Airport Authority’s executive director, said analyzing a potential move would involve several “invested stakeholders.”
“The process and costs associated with any potential relocation would require significant investment of taxpayer funds,” Roger Wehner, the airport authority’s executive director, said in an emailed statement.
“From a fiscal responsibility perspective the Airport Authority, in concert with the Air Service Task Force and the Regional Planning Commission, favors a complete analysis of solutions that would significantly improve access to the current airport before evaluating a relocation.”
By Michael Finch II | firstname.lastname@example.org