By R. Clay Paslay
Fresh off what the Transportation Security Administration has called the “busiest summer travel period on record,” U.S. airport owners and federal security officers deserve our commendations.
They processed more than 14 million passengers over the Labor Day holiday weekend, up almost 11 percent over the same period in 2022. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that the airline industry has mostly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and is operating at 94% of what it was in June 2019.
Much of this has taken place at U.S. airports with outdated security checkpoints, terminal buildings beyond their useful life, aging baggage handling systems, and airport infrastructure that ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke has estimated averages 40 years or older.
The good news is that new Federal Aviation Administration grant options and flexible infrastructure funding for terminals and construction projects have given municipal governments and airport authorities renewed confidence to move long-awaited capital programs into high gear.
More often, airport owners are issuing procurements that seek proposals for Executive Program Management, the model our firm introduced to the industry almost two decades ago, to ensure their programs are planned, implemented, and executed in the most efficient and timely way. Among the recent examples are requests for EPM services from Cleveland Airport Systems and the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
For many airport leaders, capital programs are generational investments and the largest the airport has ever experienced. It’s not business-as-usual. The program’s magnitude requires a paradigm shift in the way airport leaders think given the number of people who will be involved, the speed of spending required, and the volume of contracts to manage. All while managing an operating airport.
Large-scale development programs come with risks. Cost and schedule are constant challenges, but reputation and community perception are as important. Executive Program Management helps owners navigate potential pitfalls.
The model works best with a small team of highly experienced development leaders who are integrated with the airport’s executive team and expand the owner’s ability to manage the development program.
Typical EPM teams include a senior Executive Program Manager, a Project Controls Manager, Construction Manager, and Design Manager. Other roles depend on the unique needs of the airport and program – an Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer (ORAT) manager, for example, or an Automated People Mover system specialist.
We’ve learned the benefits of separating leadership from the boots on the ground. The firm that provides Executive Program Management should not staff other functions, and augmentation staff should typically be procured separately. The EPM team’s only motivation should be the owner’s success.
Airport development programs are challenging. But they are also incredibly rewarding and appreciated by the traveling public.
Just look at Kansas City International’s new $1.5 billion Build KCI program that opened in February. Paslay Group’s EPM efforts allowed the owner to increase the program scope by five gates to a total of 40 and reduce costs more than $400 million from the original contractor pricing.
In 2022, JD Power ranked the 1972 MCI terminals as the worst U.S. airport for passenger satisfaction. This June, MCI was named the best airport in America by TravelAwaits.com, an online travel news magazine.
Now that’s something to celebrate.
R. Clay Paslay is Managing Partner and CEO of the Paslay Group, the premiere, full-service airport consultancy providing Executive Program Management, Business Advisory, and Development services for a wide array of airports implementing capital programs. Founded in 2006, PG has assisted owners in delivering airport projects valued at $21 billion and is currently managing an additional $11 billion in investments. Visit paslaygroup.com to learn more.
This piece was originally published by Airports Council International – North American (ACI-NA) for the association’s Centerlines blog and e-newsletter.