The name of Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) changed at midnight on New Year’s Eve to Central North Carolina International Airport (CNCIA), but there are a lot of people who don’t want the name to stay that way.
On Tuesday, Dec. 19, in a move that caught the entire community by surprise, the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority voted 7 to 0 to change the airport’s name. However, there’s been a great deal of negative reaction to the move and that now has the Airport Authority both on the defensive and closed mouthed. Critics have said the new name makes the airport sound like everything from “a third-tier party school” to a “crop dusting field.”
Airport Authority Chairman Steve Showfety, the president of Koury Corp., didn’t return a call from the Rhino Times regarding the authority’s reaction to the widespread criticism, and CNCIA Executive Director Kevin Baker said he had “no comment” at this time. That’s unusual for Baker, who’s generally been very willing to talk about all airport matters in the past.
Airport Authority Member Linda Shaw, a former Guilford County commissioner, said she’s seen the criticism in the media, but she added that people haven’t contacted her personally to express dissatisfaction over the new name.
“I’ve had no letters or emails,” Shaw said. “I got one call. That was a friend of mine and it was civil.”
aShaw said the name change was strongly supported by members of the economic development community who have the job of marketing this area to the rest of the world. She said economic development officials say it offers a real advantage.
“I feel like it’s something that has to be done,” Shaw said of the change.
She said the name “Piedmont Triad” is confusing to those in other parts of the county and the world and said that other suggestions she’s heard have drawbacks.
According to Shaw, one factor behind all the criticism is that many people have an aversion to change in general.
“You’re going to have people out there who don’t like change,” she said.
When asked if the Airport Authority was reconsidering the new name given the criticism, she said hadn’t met with the other members or discussed that. Shaw said the move was made right before Christmas and then, over the holidays, board members went their own way. The Airport Authority board is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Jan. 23.
The Airport Authority is an independent organization established in 1942 with near total autonomy when it comes to running the airport. It consists of seven members, with three appointed by Guilford County, one by Forsyth County, and with the cities of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem having one appointment each.
The Airport Authority conducted the conversations regarding the name change in private – clearly in an effort to avoid the giant public conversation and debate that’s now going on. However, even making the decision six days before Christmas didn’t keep the debate from erupting once the public became aware of the move.
While ordinary citizens didn’t like being kept out of the loop, the elected officials who appoint the Airport Authority board members really didn’t like being left in the dark. Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who represents the county commissioners district that contains the airport, said he didn’t appreciate finding out about the name change on Facebook. And this week Commissioner Skip Alston expressed his dismay over knowing nothing about the name change being in the works.
Alston said he’s not a fan of the new name, but, more to the point, he said, is that the Airport Authority has three members put on that authority to enact the will of Guilford County with regard to the airport. The county commissioners, Alston said, didn’t know about the name change until after the fact – or, in the case of a couple of them, right before the decision. Alston said the authority did a very poor job of keeping the county commissioners informed.
“They work for us on our behalf and we did not know anything about it,” Alston said.
Alston also said there was no consultation or even forewarning regarding the name change that’s turned out to be widely unpopular.
“I think it came out of the clear blue sky,” he said. “They work for us. I think they should have at least run it by us. They should have at least let the county manager know.”
Showfety did call former Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips a week or so before the change was made. Showfety suggested Phillips attend the Dec. 19 meeting since the authority was considering a name change, but by that point the decision had clearly already been made. New Chairman Alan Branson was also told a name change was being considered, but Branson said he was asked to keep the matter “in confidence.”
When the Rhino Times asked Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne if the Board of Commissioners has the right remove its appointees to the Airport Authority, Payne wrote in an email, “Yes, they can remove them.” And he added, “I am unaware of any limitation on this peculiar to the Airport Authority but am looking into that to make sure.”
At this point, no one is talking yet about replacing Airport Authority members, but there’s no question the authority members ruffled a lot of feathers of the boards and councils that appoint them by making a major decision of this nature without telling them.
The Airport Authority board is considered one of the most important appointed boards in the area. It oversees the expenditure of a great deal of money each year at the airport, and each time a seat comes open it is highly sought after.
The City of Greensboro appoints one member to the Airport Authority but has little to no influence over what action the authority takes. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said this week that the city played no role in the name change.
“It’s an independent organization that does not receive any city money for their budget,” Vaughan said of the authority. “They didn’t ask me for a vote. I don’t think it’s an awful name – but a lot of people do.”
Vaughan said she didn’t think the roll out of the new name was handled well.
“I don’t like the way it was done,” the mayor said, adding that a new name should have been released with a new marketing campaign and a logo.
Vaughan added that the name change has brought some other criticism against the Airport Authority for unrelated matters. She said some of that criticism is unfounded. She pointed out that some people have used the current situation to vent publically about the lack of flight options to and from the airport or about the price of tickets at the airport compared to Raleigh-Durham International Airport or Charlotte Douglas International Airport. According to Vaughan, many people don’t understand how difficult it is to get airlines to bring in new routes or a new low cost carrier. Those decisions are made by airlines, not airports. She said it certainly isn’t for a lack of trying, and she added that local residents could help the situation by choosing to fly to and from this area’s airport.
“I sat on there [the Airport Authority] for six years and I can tell you not a week goes by that they are not talking about that,” Vaughan said of bringing in more flights, increasing passenger activity and promoting lower fares.
Airport Authority members have been reluctant to mention any other names that were considered for the airport, but Vaughn said she’d heard a leading contender was Central Carolina International Airport. She said the renaming was clearly an effort to offer clarity on the location of the airport for people in other places who are taking a look at this area for potential business expansion. Vaughan added she can certainly understand why airport officials wanted a new name.
“I think having North Carolina in the name is not for the traveler flying out, but for those companies in other parts of the world thinking about coming in,” she said.
Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina CEO Chris Chung is one economic development official who likes the new airport name. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, the day after the Airport Authority voted to rename the airport, Showfety received an email from Chung that he forwarded to the other Airport Authority members. Showfety wrote the authority members that he was forwarding the email because “A little validation for making a decision that is subject to criticism is good for the soul.”
He added, “Although it would have been easier to do nothing, we collectively believe the decision to change the name is in our economic best interest and provides a platform to better serve our mission.”
Chung’s email to Showfety and another economic development official stated, “Gentlemen, Smart move on the renaming – makes perfect sense to leverage the North Carolina name identity, as it has a lot more marketing resonance for the business (and tourism) audience. While all of us in NC are used to the term Piedmont Triad, I’ll admit I’d never heard the name before moving here. And I have to believe from personal experience talking with others that the term lacks much awareness elsewhere in the US, much less overseas. (Just my two cents, though.)”
Another advocate for the new airport name is Jim McArthur, the senior director for triad aerospace development. He’s the person who was hired last year to persuade businesses to locate at a new 800-acre aerospace megasite connected to the airport.
“I love it,” McArthur said of the new name.
“To me, it made my job easier,” he added. “I think it’s going to be great for the marketing piece of it, just because it puts North Carolina in the name. I don’t have to explain where it is.”
McArthur said he only knew of the name change plan in the later stages.
“I didn’t know about the discussion early on,” McArthur said.
He said he’ll be marketing the megasite to aircraft industry companies in Europe and Asia and they are generally unfamiliar with the location of the Piedmont Triad.
“Hopefully, we’ll catch a big fish early,” he said.
The Airport Authority made the new name effective on Monday, Jan. 1, but as of yet there are no visible examples of the change. Internet flight tracking sites such as flightaware.com still list it Piedmont Triad International Airport and “Fly from PTI” ads are still running on television.