In my 18 years working for two aviation related companies at Juneau International Airport, as well as during my three years on the airport board, I have only witnessed two very poor decisions by airport management and the board.
The first occurred a little more than 10 years ago when the airport manager at the time, as well as some members of the board, thought it would be a good idea to have ownership of private leasehold improvements — such as hangars — built on airport-leased land, revert to the airport at the end of the land lease term without compensating the private property owner. Thankfully the Assembly intervened by amending the municipal code to ensure that the airport could not take private property without compensation, even if it was built on City and Borough of Juneau-owned land.
The second occurred earlier this year when airport management and the board unanimously decided to allow a single company, currently the largest scheduled commuter carrier operating at the airport, to lease land immediately adjacent to a reconstructed terminal north wing. This lease will allow for construction of a privately owned and operated cargo, mail and excursion facility.
So why is this bad idea? Shouldn’t the CBJ be “business friendly?” There are several reasons.
Yes, the CBJ should be “business friendly,” but this decision is essentially “one-business friendly” since it grants a significant, permanent location advantage to one business over all other current and potential future competitors. Not only will this advantage stifle competition in the scheduled commuter air market, it likely will lead to an effective monopoly. Monopolies reduce choices and all but ensure higher consumer costs for not only Juneau residents but the residents of the outlying communities that are served by airlines operating at the airport. In order to adapt to changing markets of the future and as a matter of good public policy, the CBJ should remain business friendly while maximizing the opportunities for competition.
The other critical issue is that the current plan leaves the airport no room to expand the public commuter terminal without purchasing the privately held cargo and freight building. That building will be designed to meet one airline’s needs and not the city’s. This is very shortsighted, bad public policy and is based solely on today’s circumstances.
By allowing a single airline to build immediately adjacent to the airport terminal, the airport has embarked on establishing design criteria so the private structure will be somewhat compatible with the current airport terminal. While this is appropriate, the proposal would have all design decisions made solely by a backroom group composed of the airline, airport staff and one board member. There will be no public or Assembly oversight, review or input, and once those decisions are made, the residents of Juneau will have to live with the results.
However, there is a simple solution that will allow for a level playing field, future competition and unimpeded airport terminal expansion as well as avoid trying to blend a private building with our aesthetically pleasing airport terminal. As was proposed to the board in a July 10, 2018 letter and diagram, the airport could still offer lease lots proximate to the north wing, but much closer to an already existing cargo operation, FedEx. Such a plan will ensure that cargo, mail and excursion operations are not co-mingled with the passenger operations at the terminal while still allowing proximate access to the terminal. These privately built and owned facilities would be sufficiently separated from the terminal as to not require significant design criteria, thereby reducing the cost to construct.
It is incumbent for our recently elected CBJ Assembly to once again step in to protect the long-term future and health of Juneau’s airport and traveling public. The public should insist the Assembly direct the airport to adequately allow for long-term airport terminal expansion and avoid providing a competitive advantage to a single air carrier.
• Tom Williams is a 41-year resident of Juneau and a member of the traveling public. He first began working at the airport as Aero Services’ CFO in 2000. For the past 15 years he has been Ward Air’s CFO, while also serving on the CBJ Airport Board for three of those years. Ward Air is an on-demand charter operator and does not provide scheduled commuter service at the airport. These views are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of my past or current employer. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.