Airport director touts expansion _lowres

Advocate staff photo by STACY GILL -- Greater Baton Rouge Airport Director of Aviation Anthony Marino spoke about the economic impact the airport has on East Baton Rouge Parish Feb. 18 while guest speaking at the Zachary Rotary Club's Feb. 18 meeting. Marino, former Zachary Mayor and Rotarian Charlene Smith, Rotarian Brandy Westmoreland and GBR Airport Assistant Director Ralph Hennessy, are from left.

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport Director Anthony Marino visited Zachary Rotarians Feb. 18 to share news about the airport, including recent renovations and expansion and findings from a recent study.

Offering single-flight connections to more than 700 destinations daily, the Baton Rouge Airport is governed by Airport Authority members, including Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden and the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council. Seated under this authority is a 12-member board of commissioners.

Zachary City Prosecutor Trae Welch, also a Zachary resident, is a member of both entities.

The recently renovated and expanded airport, referred to as BTR, operates as an Enterprise Fund, and does not receive tax funding from city-parish government, Marino said.

“The airport is mandated by federal regulations to be self-sustaining and generates its own revenues for operations as opposed to receiving local tax funds,” said Marino. “Instead, we receive funding from aircraft landing fees, rents, parking, advertising, concessions and leases in the Aviation Business Park. In other words, BTR is financed and operated in a manner similar to private business enterprises using self-generated revenues.”

Emergent Method, a Baton Rouge-based management and strategy consulting firm, conducted an economic impact study on BTR in May, which showed several key findings:

BTR supports nearly $1.1 billion in economic output, a figure that includes more than 4,500 direct and indirect jobs created by the airport and its leaseholders throughout the Aviation Business Park, as well as annual state tax revenues of $19.5 million.

More than 60 of every 100 passengers who live in Baton Rouge primary and secondary “catchment areas” use airports other than BTR. Of the expenses incurred when doing so — mileage, vehicle wear and tear, parking and other — the most substantial for travelers is the cost of their time.

Area stakeholders, particularly business and community leadership, have a vested interest in a successful, high-performing regional airport in Baton Rouge. Suggestions from stakeholders included making fundamental service-level improvements, growing the footprint of the Aviation Business Park, improving access to air service and delivering a direct return on investment to the Baton Rouge economy through workforce retention and recruitment.

Other findings included growing BTR air service options to reduce loss of travelers to surrounding airports; airport must have support of surrounding communities and stakeholders; and air service should be grown to meet the demands of customers by focusing on strategic growth targets. Marino said BTR is monitoring passenger loss to other airports such as how many travelers are flying out of New Orleans, Lafayette or Gulfport, Mississippi. “We try to fill those voids,” he said. “It’s inevitable that you’ll get stuck in an airport, but when that happens, it has to be a welcoming environment. That’s what we aim to provide.”

Expansion efforts at the airport have alleviated crowding in the checkpoint and passenger greeting areas. The original rotunda, which was previously post-security, now serves as an arrival area for guests on the pre-security side. Also, the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint was moved to the new rotunda and can now expand to three lanes.

New restrooms and vending machines have been added along with the remodeling of airport restaurants to include fresh food options and specialty coffees.