Submitted to al.com as an op-ed to Marc Pelham’s piece on Brookley Field.
January 8, 2015
Making the case for Mobile International Airport at Brookley Field
My interest in moving the Mobile Regional Airport (MOB) back to Brookley Field (BFM) is that it just makes sense to do it, if it’s financially, physically and politically feasible – that’s to be determined. I have no financial or commercial interest in this old idea and thus I don’t stand to gain financially from owning an aviation business at Brookley or through the sale of any nearby real estate. The only benefits that I might receive would be in a shorter commute from Daphne to this airport and maybe more competitive airfare. Like many Mobilians, I’ve long wanted to see the airport return to Brookley. Over the past 20 years, I’ve taken my fair share of rides to Gulfport, MS and/or to Pensacola, FL to catch a flight on Delta Air Lines or on AirTran usually saving money while the drive on Interstate-10 requires no braking for stop lights.
Pensacola (PNS) is only 4 miles from I-10 with numerous strip malls leading up to the airport. If you need to make a purchase or two it’s just a quick stop before driving onto the grounds of PNS, which has a Hampton Inn Hotel and Suites across the street and a new Hyatt Hotel built on the airport’s campus.
Seeing the air passenger traffic numbers for all three airports on FAA.com (CY ‘12, CY ‘13) validated what many of us already suspected that most Mobile-area residents (including those living on the Eastern Shore) are choosing to travel to Gulfport and/or to Pensacola to catch a flight over driving to the far end of Mobile down busy Airport Blvd. to MOB. Even from I-10, it’s a challenging ride north to Schillingers Road. There’s no easy way to get there unless you live out there.
I can only wonder how much money the city and the Mobile Airport Authority are losing in revenue and in tax revenue to the other two airports. No amount of marketing and advertising will reverse their fortunes. Here you have an airport running at half capacity or less. At Brookley Field (Mobile Downtown Airport), you have another facility being used at some capacity less than full. Without a terminal, Brookley has never been able to fully use its resources in combination with its adjacent rail, truck and deep water capabilities.
With President Obama’s recent comments to normalize relations with Cuba, the city of Mobile and the state of Alabama stand to gain economically and politically with our ties to our sister city, Havana. This provides foreseen and unforeseen opportunities with the communist island. Currently, under the embargo Alabama sells and ships $41mm worth of fresh poultry, annually, through the Port of Mobile by ship to Havana. Might that dollar amount grew in excess of $100mm or by half a billion, in time, by ship and plane?
With Airbus’ assembly plant under construction, its employees and its vendors from around the world could fly right into Brookley Field where they could take a shuttle ride to the Airbus’ facilities or they could take a short ride to their downtown hotel. Many have argued that Brookley is a commercial facility with Mobile Aerospace Engineering, Continental Motors and now Airbus that it shouldn’t be used a passenger airport, as well. With Brookley’s closing in 1969, it has taken 44 years to land this A320/321 project. Must we wait another 40 years to get the next big project to fully-utilize Brookley? Does this make any sense?
Boeing will never come to town with their archrival already, here. Anyone who has ever flown into Charleston, SC might know that the Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner’s final assembly plant shares space and runways with the city’s international airport (CHS) along with the S.C. Air National Guard. It’s not a problem for them. Boeing has another facility at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport where the wings and tail sections are made for their 777X plane.
Well, if we move Mobile Regional Airport back to Brookley Field, what comes of Bates Field? What comes to my mind is the first time that I learned about Mercedes-Benz coming to Alabama, in the early 1990’s, to manufacture their German-engineered cars, near Tuscaloosa. Next came Honda Manufacturing to the state before Hyundai built their massive automotive plant just south of Montgomery. In less than 20 years, Alabama has gone from making no cars and SUVs to becoming the 10th largest manufacturer in the country.
Given the growing labor pool of aircraft maintenance personnel already living and working in Mobile, Bates Field could serve as another aircraft manufacturing or servicing site for smaller aircraft and/or helicopters. Or whatever else you can you imagine. MAE has already signed a lease with PNS to service additional planes at their airport. To make room for Airbus, both, FedEx and UPS have or are moving to PNS where they’ll deliver their overnight packages to Mobile-area customers from their new facilities. Had there been some better planning at Mobile Airport Authority maybe we could have better anticipated MAE’s move with a flip-flop in space between Brookley and Bates Fields keeping this business expansion right here in Mobile. The arrival of Airbus, the manufacturer of world-class commercial jets, should inspire Mobile to raise its game in all areas of life.
If we don’t move the airport what opportunities will this city miss out on? Are we selling ourselves short? In matters of competitiveness and growth, Mobile trails far behind its neighbors and other cities with a similar age and history. It’s unhealthy. These cities are flourishing, they’re flying as Mobile continues to taxi in circles never knowing what it feels like to finally takeoff and soar!
I’m calling for an independent feasibility study on moving the airport back to Brookley Field to settle the financial and physical issues, once and for all.
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina, http://www.boeing.com/boeing/commercial/charleston/index.page?
Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved. “al.com — Op-ed: Making the case for Mobile International Airport at Brookley Field” by Ted Burnett
My other essays and videos can be viewed at my website – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org.