The LVEDC Interview: LVIA Executive Director Charles Everett Jr.
By LVEDC Staff on June 17, 2014
Editor’s Note: You may not think about it everyday, but for those of us who have lived their entire lives in the Lehigh Valley or have lived here for many years, the Lehigh Valley International Airport has always been there. A great convenience that sometimes we take for granted. Formerly known as Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton International Airport, LVIA, located in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, is owned and operated by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. The airport rests on a staggering 2,629 acres and has two asphalt runways that allows flights from Allegiant Air, Delta, United, and US Airways to serve Lehigh Valley residents. This week we pose questions to Charles Everett Jr., executive director of LVIA about the state of the airport, why it’s an underappreciated asset for our region and what the future may hold.
LVEDC: What do you consider the top assets provided by Lehigh Valley International Airport?
Charles Everett: Lehigh Valley International Airport (LVIA) has several top assets. LVIA links leisure and business travelers to the global economy and connects to locations throughout the world via direct domestic destinations and airline hub airports for international travel. LVIA is convenient. It is an easy airport to navigate and the customer experience is a priority. The airport has the terminal and airfield capacity to accommodate operational growth for the long-term future. Based on a study conducted by the Bureau of Aviation of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in 2011, LVIA is the fourth largest commercial airport in the state and is responsible for over 6,000 jobs and $528 million in total economic output annually.
LVEDC: What are the obstacles and drawbacks that are holding back the local airport?
Charles Everett: In recent years the aviation industry has provided challenges to small- and medium-sized airports around the country. Unstable fuel prices and escalating labor costs have caused the airlines to shift focus from market share to profit. Airline bankruptcies and consolidation resulted in airlines reducing seat capacity into many airports. Some airports lost all commercial service. These service reductions and the impact of competition among remaining airlines and airports limit growth at LVIA. In addition, the land judgment has prevented and/or delayed the airport from progressing some needed capital improvements and equipment replacement. This situation will be mitigated in the next several years with the judgment being paid in full. Because LVIA is self-sustaining and receives no external financial assistance to conduct airport operations, the cost per enplaned passenger is trending higher than desired. With passenger increases, revenue enhancement/maximization opportunities and the retirement of the judgment debt, these costs are projected to stabilize over time.
LVEDC: Why do so many potential passengers choose to drive to Philly, Newark or New York to catch a flight?
Charles Everett: The dynamics of air service impacting the Lehigh Valley are driven by the geographic proximity of LVIA and the Lehigh Valley catchment area to the Philadelphia and New York regions, which are well served by large hub airports (PHL, EWR, JFK and LGA). There are few locations in the U.S. where there is a such a diverse mix of large hub airports and associated air service with both legacy and low cost airlines. Because consumers are well informed about travel options, and highway access is good, travelers are willing to make choices that take them from their home airport. They make these travel decisions based on level of service variables including air fares, flight frequency, loyalty programs and negotiated agreements. While LVIA has close access to major hubs and the air transportation system, airlines control pricing, routes and schedules. Typically, airlines will not overfly their hubs or duplicate service to closely spaced airports. Today airlines use their well established networks efficiently to increase revenue. They feed their hubs based on their investments in infrastructure at those airports and their overall business models. Airlines are focused on filling aircraft seats. They tend to eliminate routes and flights that do not generate high utilization rates or revenues.
LVEDC: What efforts are underway to stem the tide and get the airport usage up and passenger numbers growing?
Charles Everett: The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, the municipal authority which owns and operates LVIA, is engaged in a marketing, advertising and promotion campaign. The program takes advantage of various forms of media (radio, outdoor, print, social, etc.) throughout the Lehigh Valley and points beyond in neighboring areas to spread the word about air service available at LVIA and the convenience of travel. The Authority also has an air service incentive program which it offers to current and potential new airlines. The incentives include introductory fee waivers and marketing funds to airlines interested in establishing new service or routes from LVIA. In addition, the Air Service Focus Group, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Governors, includes members from 18 different local companies and educational institutions, which represents 70,000 employees and $55 million in ticket spend per year. When airlines are considering expanding into new areas, business organizations, like the focus group demonstrate that community support of the airport can be a key asset in attracting new service, by committing to use the new air service to assure the airlines that the service can be self sustaining. In addition, there is a renewed focus on customer service and the customer experience. Recognizing that many airlines have modified their approach to customer service, the Authority has taken advantage of the opportunity to serve, and works diligently to exceed customer expectations and assure that travelers have the best experience possible when using LVIA.
LVEDC: Tell us about your career – from where did you come and how do you view the Lehigh Valley? And, how do we compare to other regions you lived and worked?
Charles Everett: I have been involved with the aviation industry for the past thirty years. I have worked for various engineering and management consulting firms in the areas of airport planning and management. I managed Syracuse Hancock International Airport in New York. I managed the National Planning and Environmental Division of the Office of Airports for the Federal Aviation Administration. I also worked on Capitol Hill as a Congressional Liaison responsible for issues involving the National Airport System and the Airport Improvement Program. I retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve with a career in Logistics. I have lived in many communities in the U.S. during my career, many of which, like the Lehigh Valley, have transitioned from a manufacturing economy to a service sector economy. The area appears to have transitioned well, given the sustained growth in population, relatively low unemployment rates when compared to other similar markets, and the demonstrated ability to convert and reuse former heavy industrial sites for new commercial, residential and light industrial use. The Lehigh Valley is a great place to live and work, and offers a very competitive cost of living. There is also a cluster of corporate headquarters and specialty industry which makes the area dynamic. Geography in this case is an enabler due to the close proximity to major centers of commerce like Philadelphia and New York City and the ease of travel to reach these and other northeast markets to do business.
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