The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) says over 1.4 million people passed through airport security Thursday. That’s up from a little over 230,000 people on the same day last year. Airports across the country are seeing improving passenger numbers, but people flying is not the only measure of an Airport’s health in a community.
Gladys Brown is the Director of the Yuma International Airport, last time we spoke, in September, she described a quiet airport terminal where interactions were few and concerns were high. With passenger numbers up I asked what things look like now.
“When the pandemic started it dropped drastically down to maybe on certain weeks 2,830 passengers daily. Then come September it started to get a little bit better. We had some fluctuation over the summer, depending on what was placed in the media, by Sept. we were right about the low 100-180. We were seeing that on a daily, daily departure our arrival that’s about how many people were coming through the terminal.
If people were very socially distant, you can tell nobody really looked at each other, everybody, you know pretty much kept beyond the six-foot separation. And then, over the last six-seven months, we started to see a gradual increase, and then just recently with our increase in fight frequencies, people having the vaccines, folks are feeling a little bit more comfortable regardless of whether or not they were vaccinated. We’ve seen a good increase and we saw a steady increase over those months, especially with vaccinations coming out, and it being more, more easily assessable to get. We now today are actually in the low three hundred. As far as employment goes, which is actually higher than what it was pre-pandemic. We are watching people speak with each other, of course, they’re respecting the mask, making sure that they have it on what most folks don’t realize is that in the federal facilities masks are still required. Flying masks are still required. But of course, when you’re in the restaurant, or inside of an office, a lot of the times many can if they’re comfortable, can remove the mask if they choose to, but I would say overall, we’re watching people have some, some of that more interactive hellos, you know, eye contact, I think folks have been very acclimated to wearing the mask, people still do social distance I think folks are very mindful and respectful of each other’s space, and they do ask if they kind of get too close or they apologize or, you know things are going on and if they bump into each other, just by chance you know you can tell they’re very aware. So it is nice to see, I think that one day when we can have a full choice of whether or not to wear the mask. Everywhere we go, I think that would be, that’s one of the things, a lot of folks look forward to.” Lou Gum: One of the things we talked about last time was that the business travel was somewhat consistent during the pandemic I mean, after all, life did go on in a lot of ways, leisure travel lagged, what’s the mix of passengers you’re seeing now? Gladys Brown: I would say that we’re seeing a good combination of both, a lot of companies are allowing their employees to now travel to their locations to go on site. So we’ve seen a little bit more of that military and business travel pickup. We’ve also noticed that our leisure travelers with their families are now able to go to other destinations or to visit other families. And so we are watching families with small children and young adults travel more. So we’re hoping that right now I can’t say what the percentage-based is, but we’re seeing a good mix of both. The airport was in every way a productive place I don’t want to give the impression just because passenger numbers were down that there wasn’t a lot of activity over this, this past year, on the part of the airport. Lou Gum: Despite the pandemic, can you talk about some of that work that was recently recognized and we’ll get to the ADOT, recognition, here in a minute but you were able to take on some smaller projects do some strategic planning do some community relations, what happened during the pandemic that was positive? Gladys Brown: So, even though we had a lot of major events cancel what we were able to do with the community is actually take those marketing dollars and that investment into different organizations and spread it around a little bit more. We’re able to identify what organizations were doing to help people get out in and do things. So we took full advantage of a lot of the golf tournaments. A lot of the sponsoring of independent schools and competitive, you know, competitive events in which they were able to go and enter or do things. We really looked for the opportunity to help where we can. Last year we also began an annual food drive during Christmas time which will, but we were able to also partner with one of the local car clubs here which was wonderful. It’s also one of our team members. Personal community service event in which they raise money to take on and to provide food or things to other families that might be in need, so that was really nice to look at that collaboration and what it will look like moving forward. The biggest thing for us is seeing where we could place those marketing dollars the way we’re able to legitly or use them in the proper way, but also to continually support our community through the pandemic so those that we’re entering into scholarships, those organizations that we’re raising to help families, you know, whatever we can do we are just trying to figure out what we can do to continue to place money back into the community. When it came to business development. One, we worked with all of our concessionaires and vendors to see what can we do to helping increase traffic foot or flow for them to help bring their numbers up. Especially because the company themselves had really downsized and so we’re trying to see what were they good for what can we do, and then also how can we get it out there. Additionally, we reached out to some of our long term tenant users that were from different states that were on the larger scale of commercial operation, and let them know that our facilities, was open, that our community was open and ready to serve them as well, in figuring out how can we can get their operation here. So a great example is the Boeing group, we were able to have them test one of their business jet lines to come and do a lot of their R&D and their testing and operational functions, but we understood that they would have to do that in waves, because they had a maximum amount of employees that could come on rotation, and so we let them know and help to ensure that they had the hotels, because even though they were with the aircraft, they had to work remotely too so there was very strict stipulations for their company policy about how many could be with the aircraft so we wanted to get them all in the same hotel of course. So, along with our team, we figured out work we can get them so they can kind of be all in the same area or vicinity. And then also showing them what they can do so that they can bring their line here to test so as a result of that we got multiple testing runs with them through the pandemic which again takes very specific authorization, we had to have a very strict cleaning schedule in the facility. We had other arrangements and agreements with them to ensure that they met, what their company required, for their cleaning. So, in addition to that, we also had another user, that’s out of Texas and also collaborates with Jacobs engineers. We had them testing another line for Boeing and so they also have a facility, and they also collaborate with YPG, so again, you see that contractors business side of the house. We were very fortunate to that our fixed base operator could also go and provide services throughout the pandemic, to not just our commercial users that were in agriculture, but also military transient, transient units that needed to have, again, that separation in space but also serve the mission that they were in so very fortunate because their protocols and what they did were also in alignment with the health concerns and issues that were during the pandemic and so there was a lot of collaboration, a lot of involvement. A lot of it is just clear communication, ensuring that they knew that our community was very welcoming, understanding, and then also we adjusted if their plans changed if they had to scoot back forwards or scoot back their dates or move them up closer, we just figured out what we can do to accommodate them. As a team, I will tell you during this time we also went out and saw new opportunities, and as a result were able to get a larger company that was of interest that are working on the big KC 135 to put them out into the industry as a private contractor and what does that look like? so kind of working with that group, who was up and coming, and having their aircraft come here and their cruise train and their pilots come to train, to take advantage of the airspace and also the space that we have on the ground for them to be able to have their operations and that was, and that is exciting because we get to see what’s going to happen in the future with them. Lou Gum: I’m Lou Gum, This is Arizona edition on KAWC, we’re talking with Gladys Brown, Director of Yuma International Airport. Brown was telling us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity that continued at the airport throughout the pandemic and through today, its activity, not a lot of people know about now. Gladys Brown: I think the biggest thing is airports across the nation are very similar to this, the scale right is, is sometimes exponential because their operators are huge you know the big Raytheon and Boeing and all the different types of jetliners that may be there and air carriers, but a lot of us that are kind of in rural or remote locations have to do the same thing to try to apply that industrial aviation side of the house to see what we can do to capitalize on, on the, on the property that we have. So I always tell people it’s not just aeronautical use. We also have non-aeronautical use so in addition to what I just spoke about. We also have a farmer that goes out there and farms the land and grows the crops that they need, whether it’s just alfalfa, or just killing intending it until the alfalfa is time to get in there, but that also helps us mitigate dust helps it look good. So in the future if we wanted to market it, you know, the biggest thing is, there’s even more that people don’t get to see and that they may say oh there’s a, there’s an industrial park right near the airport but the truth is, a lot of the times that Industrial Park may be owned by the airport, but use for non-aeronautical sales or revenue so always something fun, I tell people there’s always something to do. But most of all, the biggest thing that airports are there for are the community. They’re here to have and encourage economic development. We also want to be an added benefit when we have other corporations and entities looking to headquarter here or relocate or startup. We want to show them all the things wonderful about this community, which also involves the airport. So a lot of it takes learning so that’s one of the other things that all of us have done during the pandemic is we, we want to, we wanted to listen more. We wanted to learn more, we wanted to observe other companies and see what we can do to enhance or build relationships with them. And as a result, we have, we’ve learned a lot from, let’s use a great company out in town like the Gowen company, but you know many people don’t know what the Gowan company does, they see the name, they see the big plant on highway 95 but, man, did we learn all the wonderful things that they’ve done that the patent that they’re creating that they’re doing today and their growth, and then also where we play a part in it when they’re, when their team is ready to travel, not just the team here, but the team that they have internationally and that opened up our eyes a lot, and also hear their concerns about today’s travel so we’re just working in trying to get better, but we also want to educate and tell people, nothing happens for us overnight, and we’re doing our best. But the biggest thing is we have to have continual usage if we want to see growth happen especially on the commercial air service side, you mentioned, economic development, they’re seeing more fliers is great and that’s again some things people can observe and understand is as good for the airport and for the local economy. Lou Gum Can you talk about the airport as a sort of barometer of the health of the local economy from that standpoint, what have you observed, and you’ve mentioned a bit of it already that’s positive, what’s still concerning? Gladys Brown So, so what’s positive is that we have an increase of flight frequencies by the air carrier, and we also have our shows that we have a community that will use it. What is always concerning is the, the undulation that’s going to happen, which is the summer happens, people tend not to fly as much business can. A lot of the time. Slow down. Our biggest thing is losing a market to our, our competition which is in Phoenix and which is in San Diego and for some who will drive that horrible drive through the city to LAX, but I will tell you that that’s one of my concerns when it comes to commercial air service, is that people will not even look or consider the rates out of Yuma and automatically go to a preferred carrier that we don’t have, which is like a Southwest, but they didn’t ever run the numbers here and realize it. The flight was actually the same price and sometimes you get very lucky and it’s cheaper. And so my concern a lot of the times is that one bad experience, or one flight that the price was too high, and they rule us out. And when people rule us out on the commercial air service side of the house, what if it does take us off the table for consideration of an expansion of current air service, or the opportunity for new air service with another provider. So the biggest thing is that our community understands that we do have almost 60% of our population, that does not fly locally, and they gather that data, when you go and book your plane ticket, it’s ADOT as for how the data is collected. It’s an ADOT’s system, and then our consultants pulled and extracted and are able to see who from this area code around within a radius of 60 miles. That’s also, you know, a part of what I need to do and that I have done so. I know everyone does get very frustrated on delayed flights are canceled flights. A lot of the times it’s due to weather on delay mechanical issues that have to be addressed and seen, or unfortunately the crew risk requirement as they’re very tight today on the amount of crew that they have available. So for us, I think that’s one of the biggest concerns that I have when it comes to commercial air service. Now everything is all driven by numbers in use and so the consumer controls the market as they collect that data. And the same thing happens with Business Development. Today we’re doing good getting out there trying not to over overgrow and or try to over market something that we may outgrow the footprint, and try to find ideal team members that can join the team I say it like this are the commercial operator who would add value and not be as disruptive to our military partnerships so for me that’s one of the things that I am challenged with constantly is ensuring that we can get future tenants that are compatible with the type of use, we have on the airfield and also never interrupt the mission of the Marine Corps. And so there are all these fine lines that I have to do all these things I have to consider. The biggest thing of course for me is to find a long term tenant or long term commercial operator that’s going to stay in this community that understands what this community has to offer, and then also why it’s a value for them to invest there are a lot of the millions and hundreds of millions into their platform, whether it’s to test or to provide services, and also know that it’s great for the long haul so I always look at what will happen in that 20 to 50 years versus just the quick five year gain of profit. Lou Gum: Just a couple of minutes left but as a sort of testament to the strategy of your team, your colleagues, ADOT recognizes Yuma International Airport as the 2021 Arizona airport of the year talk about a distinction like that, and you know I don’t want to be too crass about it but how do you leverage something like that into helping you meet some of those goals? Gladys Brown: So, so for us, one. It’s a huge recognition and accomplishment for the team. And for this community, this is not just about the airport team but it’s about the leadership of our entire community that is fully supported and encouraged each of the 22 mighty team members that we have here at the airport. The biggest thing that you you utilize this as is this award and acknowledgment shows collaboration and ability to produce results, whether it’s recognition of our history, whether it’s recognition of our partnership of what’s existing today, like what the Marine Corps Air Station and YPG, as well as with the city and all of the community county members, but also it’s about the potential future growth to say hey, this small airport is not just some small airport it’s an airport that not only gets recognized but as a dewar. And I think that’s the biggest thing today is that we can talk a good game but it’s about what you can produce and we don’t just do it for, for the aerospace and defense and aviation industry, we look at education. We look at a private business, we look at the other nonprofits and organizations in which add value to our community. But the biggest thing is we center it around the people, and then what can we do to help better the lives of those, not just in this city and county but also for our state, and hopefully, we add an impact and create something for our region and nationally and so a lot of that goes into years of development, and then implementation of new programs throughout the year. So, this award is recognized for new things that we do, but I do want to say that I’m very proud of things that we’re being have been able to continuously do too, so all we do is build something great every year, even if it’s two to five things that we are bringing to the community bring to the airport to get done. And that’s what we’ve been recognized for the new things that we continue that we’ve been trying to think up and do and that’s why I’m very proud of this great team and this great community and all the leadership and I have to say, All 22 of our team members here are great leaders in my, in my eyes in my book and everybody will focus on me as the airport director but I’ll tell you that I could never be great in this position without a phenomenal team and that’s what I have I have a very superior exceptional team that I’m always proud of, just about. Lou Gum: Take about 30 seconds to do an elevator pitch for those local consumers who aren’t using the airport or those people who are perhaps still just a little doubtful about traveling. What can you say to them that would encourage them to look into traveling out of Yuma? Gladys Brown: I would say that when you have a choice, it’s always great to use your local services, the biggest thing is today I know there’s a lot of anxiety and flying, but everyone’s doing their best to make sure you’re comfortable making sure that the environment is safe and that you’re healthy when you fly. So I want everyone to know not just when you’re flying but if you want to go out to eat, or if you want to rent a car, the airport itself has lots of concessionaires and the ability to serve you. And when you have a choice to fly Yuma, fly local. And also, do everything you can that you to help each of our business here in the community. We always learned so much from you, I appreciate your time. Well thank you and I will say this again, we do have a wonderful, wonderful city and county, and everybody should be very proud because I’m not the only one doing great things. We have lots of folks in this community and they’re very quiet about it, but we see them and we know who they are and I want them to say that we appreciate all of the encouragement and support they’ve provided to the airport in our entire board and our team. Lou Gum: That’s Gladys Brown, Director of The Yuma International Airport. This is Arizona edition. Thanks for listening.