Given all the good things that happened at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) in 2018, years from now area citizens may very well look back on the year and say it was the one when the airport finally took off. In many ways, over the past 12 months, PTIA has started to look like the Little Airport that Could. There’s no question, at least, that the airport thinks it can, thinks it can.
That’s because of a string of successes for the airport that, for decades, has been the odd man out – wedged between two much larger, busier, sexier airports in the state about an hour and a half drive west or east.
However, in 2018, a lot started happening to change that decades-old narrative: New routes were added, structural renovations and enhancements were made; new vendors came to the terminals; passenger and cargo traffic both shot up; FedEx added routes and jobs, and the airport completed a great deal of work on the 800-acre-plus aviation megasite that’s expected to be a major generator of economic growth for the area in coming years.
The year started out on the heels of a major milestone for the airport: HAECO Americas had just opened its fifth hangar at the end of 2017 – a $70-million project that’s the aircraft maintenance company’s largest PTIA hangar. That 176,000 square-foot hangar and the operations related to it added lots of jobs this year, and it’s estimated it will add at total of about 500 jobs once everything is said and done. The hangar is capable of holding eight 737’s simultaneously or a smaller number of even larger aircraft.
PTIA has sought for years to provide more passenger travel options to area citizens and, in 2018, there was a lot of good news in that regard. Airlines added flights and, in September, low-cost provider Spirit Airlines came to PTIA, adding new flights with a focus on Florida destinations.
At the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority’s November meeting, PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker simply couldn’t keep his enthusiasm hidden when he revealed the latest statistics regarding the number of airline seats in and out of the airport.
“The seats are just amazing,” he told the authority when he read the number.
Those seats available in and out of PTIA are now up 23 percent for January 2019 compared to January 2018.
Cargo shot up even more over the last 12 months. In October 2019, the number of cargo flights was up a whopping 63 percent compared with October 2018.
That cargo is expected to continue to climb. FedEx has been adding more flights and is adding about 400 new jobs. A new Amazon distribution center under construction in Kernersville very near the airport will also increase flights and provide jobs in the future.
In 2018, the aviation megasite at PTIA made big progress. For instance, the airport closed down the Pleasant Ridge Golf Course – that’s 140 acres of airport-owned land that will now be part of the megasite. The course closed in mid-November and, almost immediately, work crews began tearing down buildings and bulldozing greens to prepare to add that land to the megasite. The airport has been using “800 acres” as a rough description of the megasite size, but, based on possible expansions when new land is needed, it’s poised to grow much larger than that.
The airport did have a setback in November. Jim McArthur, an economic development official who was heading up business recruitment efforts for the airport megasite left that job to do essentially the same thing for Duke Energy. Like the airport, Duke Energy attempts to recruit businesses to its service area. Duke Energy especially looks for companies that are big users of electric power.
Koury Corp. President Steve Showfety, who is chairman of the Airport Authority, said it could be worse since at least McArthur will still in part be recruiting business to this area, though Showfety acknowledged that the footprint for Duke Energy is much larger than the airport area.