We have rolled down the taxiway and we are at the foot of the runway. The captain has the “fasten seatbelt” sign on and our seatback trays are in the upright and locked position.
There is a lot to be excited about in Mobile and our burgeoning aviation industry. Last year, the current Airbus production facility at Brookley hit its designed production rate of four planes a month. In June, Bombardier and Airbus announced they will close on a partnership that will probably bring another FAL to Brookley for the Cseries plane. Earlier this year, Via Air commenced a new direct-to-Orlando route and just recently announced a new route from Mobile to Montgomery.
The most recent exciting news for the aviation industry in Mobile and business in general is that a study commissioned by the Mobile Airport Authority (MAA) found it was feasible to move commercial passenger service to Brookley. While I agree that moving commercial passenger air traffic is feasible and would probably increase the number of passengers flying out of Mobile, let’s get our heads out of the clouds before we take off on this endeavor.
The feasibility study was, by design, light on specifics and numbers (that was not the job of the people conducting this study), but in their opinion it would be cheaper to build a new terminal at Brookley and related infrastructure than build a new, limited-access road from I-10 to the current airport. Without estimates of either option, it is hard to say one way or the other if that is possible.
The feasibility study did say the industrial base of Brookley is expected to double with the new developments related to Airbus and current expansion plans of Continental Motors and VT MAE. If there is any chance passenger service moving to Brookley could jeopardize that development, then we as a community need to think long and hard about it.
Another reason the firm that conducted the feasibility study said a new passenger terminal at Brookley would be a positive is that low-cost carriers (LCCs) expressed interest in offering service at Brookley but were lukewarm on the idea of offering service at Mobile Regional.
The MAA is currently renovating part of a 50,000-square-foot building at Brookley located at the end of Michigan Avenue for Via Air to move into early next year. I propose that the MAA focus their short-term efforts on completing the necessary renovation of that LCC terminal at Brookley with the required amenities requested by airlines — security, baggage, restrooms and restaurant facilities — and attracting one or two more LCCs to that terminal before we commit to a new full-fledged, state-of-the-art passenger terminal at Brookley.
The model of having separate terminals for LCCs and legacy carriers works at an increasing number of airports. It would also allow for an increasing number of options for air service in the Mobile market and provide the Airport Authority a “proof-of-concept” model before committing to diving headlong into the deep end of the commercial passenger service pool.