Despite a recent decline in passenger traffic at the Dayton International Airport, aviation director Terrence Slaybaugh is hoping a major face-lift in the next few years will boost the notoriety of this hometown hub.
The Dayton airport will need to spend $130 million in infrastructure improvements in coming years, an investment that could lure in passengers and airlines, Slaybaugh said.
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The economy parking lot renovations start this month, just one of several renovations poised to start this year. The parking project is expected to be completed in late months of summer.
Some of the proposed plans include a sanitary sewer improvement project for $8 million, $13 million to revamp parking at the airport and $22 million on terminal structure rebuilding projects.
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Slaybaugh, who has worked for the airport for about five years, said improvements to various parts of the airport were badly needed. The first phase of terminal renovation began in 2012, which included a new roof, updated restrooms and signage, sewer system improvements and the replacement of entrance doors.
“Investing right now is investing in the future,” he said. “It’s long past due.”
Another $10 million runway reconstruction project began in 2014, and was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. That included the milling and overlay of the airport’s primary runway.
Proposed future renovations are even more extensive: a new passenger entrance, a second-floor addition, the widening of the security area and first floor, the demolition of existing connectors to concourses and the renovation of Concourse A and B. An improved food court area is also planned.
Airports across the U.S. will need an infusion of nearly $100 billion in the next five years to accommodate passenger and cargo growth, and to rehabilitate aging hubs, according to a 2017 report from the Airports Council International - North America.
At the Dayton airport, funding for improvements are taken mainly from the airport improvement program, passenger facility charges and capital contributions. Passenger facility charges are fees tacked onto ticket sales. Airports controlled by public agencies collect $4.50 for every passenger who boards a plane.
With fewer passengers, airports like Dayton International get less revenue from those charges. Vendors also bring in less — and generate less tax dollars — on food, drinks and other items sold at airport stores.
The airport is actively recruiting new airlines like JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, Slaybaugh told this newspaper. Airport leadership is also talking with existing airlines, urging them to consider adding more seats. Airlines do this by using larger aircraft or adding additional flights.
Good deals are still available at the airport compared to some larger hubs in the area, Slaybaugh said, and he noted that several discount flights have been added in the last year through Allegiant Air.
“If you buy a legacy ticket, we’re usually cheaper,” Slaybaugh said. “That’s something that still drives traffic. But now with some of the service changes, we know people are leaving.”
Airfare prices at the Dayton airport have consistently been above average nationwide in recent years. In 2014, the airport had the largest average airfare increase among the top 100 airports in the U.S. Both Dayton and Cincinnati still rank in the top 50 most expensive airports in the country.
Slaybaugh’s focus now is on adding bigger aircraft, increasing the frequency of flights and giving travelers a better experience through added first-class and dual-class seats. Seat capacity overall declined slightly after Southwest Airlines pulled all flights out of Dayton in June, and added services to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
“Decisions to leave a city are never an easy decision,” said Dan Landson, spokesman for Southwest Airlines.
Southwest’s decision is indicative of a trend pervading airports across the nation — airlines are investing in larger hubs and deserting mid-sized and small ones. The Dayton airport has 18 nonstop markets, and will still have flights to Chicago and Denver, both cities served by Southwest.
Jay Ratliff, an aviation expert from the area, said he expects to see even more airlines pull out of smaller airports in the coming years. When airlines start to retract services, they are increasingly looking at what markets can increase their revenue.
“It’s the smaller airports that suffer,” Ratliff told this newspaper.
John Glenn Columbus International Airport, categorized as a medium airport in the report, saw a slight increase in passengers in 2015 — up to 3.3 million from 3.1 million in 2014. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport also saw an increase, from 2.9 million in 2014 to 3.1 million in 2015.
Traffic at Dayton’s airport has gone in the opposite direction. Ten years ago, more than 1.4 million passengers used the Dayton airport. Passenger traffic has fluctuated since then, but it’s been on a steady decline for the past five years.
In 2012, Dayton served more than 1.3 million and that decreased to just over 1 million last year.
Still, airport officials remain steadfast in their mission to elevate the Dayton International Airport. They say another avenue of growth is the vast land owned by the airport that is available for development.
Spectrum Brands Global Auto Care opened its new manufacturing and distribution center near the airport, an investment of approximately $33 million. Slaybaugh said another building will be erected next to it by the end of the year, and the airport has more than 650 acres of zoned land with potential to develop in coming years.
Private hangars and cargo areas that bring in additional revenue are situated near runways, and Dayton-based PSA Airlines continues to invest in its flagship hangar that opened in October. The 77,000-square-foot hangar is a $13 million investment at the airport, and the airline employs more than 900 people in the city.
Slaybaugh is looking at opportunities to grow Dayton’s hub through various steps: adding seats, rehabbing infrastructure and developing land for business expansion.
“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities,” he said.
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