By Kathryn B. Creedy
Melbourne International Airport (MLB) is the answer for the Most Harried, and Cost-Conscious Traveler
Most Space Coast travelers face the prospect of flying out of Orlando as if preparing for battle – not a very pleasant prospect. But flying via Melbourne International Airport (MLB) would do more than lower their blood pressure; research shows they would build the case for airlines to return nonstop flights to the Space Coast’s hometown airport – and at a significant cost savings to passengers.
FDOT/FAA reports confirm that ticket prices out of MLB are within $10 of Orlando International Airport’s prices. The issue, according to MLB officials, is capacity.
In the airport world, capacity means the number of seats an airline offers on any given flight. When an airline “increases capacity” – in other words, provides larger airplanes and more flights – it’s a signal that an airport is growing in usage and subsequent revenues to the airline. It’s also the sign that the airport is ready again for nonstop flights to popular cities. That’s where local travelers can make a difference, according to Greg Donovan, AAE, MLB’s executive director.
Donovan knows what he’s talking about. With an impressive airport operations resumé (including Houston Hobby, Madison, Wisc., Destin-Ft. Walton Beach and Pensacola Airport – all with significantly more passengers than MLB) he knows how to build passenger traffic and appeal to airlines to bring in more flights. In his first six months at the helm, MLB experienced a 15 percent increase in passengers. Both American Airlines and Delta increased their capacity, bringing in larger aircraft, and calls are coming in from other airlines that are considering MLB as their alternate airport as the “gateway to Florida.”
Big City Airport Without the Big City Hassles
When you talk to Donovan, you get a clear picture of where MLB is heading: nonstop flights and arrivals into a terminal that gracefully reflects Brevard County’s “business casual” atmosphere and enviable quality of life.
“We’re a distinctive airport with the vision to be Orlando’s alternate airport,” Donovan said. “Compare it, if you will, to hotels that boast ‘beachside.’ If you look at aerial views of our airfield, we are the ‘beachside airport’ to Central Florida’s attractions and the closest airport to one of the world’s largest cruise ports. Airlines are noticing.”
Facilities for the Future
The Melbourne Airport Authority is currently reviewing plans for its terminal transformation project, which will eventually include a new tower. MLB has full Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for international services and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) facilities, two features that most small airports desperately seek. It also has a runway infrastructure that can accommodate the largest passenger jet in the skies today.
Donovan explained one of the hard lessons for improving air service. “Passengers play a huge role in the success of an airport,” he said. “We have more than enough passengers in our region to qualify for nonstop service. We lose too many to Orlando. That hampers our ability to quickly attract new, nonstop service to our passengers’ top destinations: New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Atlanta. We want nonstop service to those airports, and the only way we are going to get it is if we – as a community – show airlines that the demand is here.”
Indeed, Donovan is often asked why MLB doesn’t have JetBlue and Southwest serving the airport. “We are getting increasing attention from the airlines and speak to them daily. But if Melbourne passengers have no problem making the drive to Orlando, what is the business incentive for them to offer nonstop from MLB? We’ve got to remind Space Coast travelers to check MLB first and show the airlines local demand for local service.”
Recently, JetBlue announced service to Daytona Beach. Donovan considers it a positive indicator that airlines are receptive again to service outside Orlando.
Airlines are starting to realize that MLB is being more competitive than ever before, offering significant incentives that reduce their operating cost per flight. “We are one of the lowest cost airports in the state. MLB’s cost per passenger is $2 less than Daytona’s, so we have a significant advantage in what it costs an airline to operate here. That’s a great story for airlines. But we depend on passengers to make it happen. If we can put the numbers together, we could make service with JetBlue happen. If we rally the business community to use MLB, we could make a much stronger case for nonstop flights.”
MLB’s Critical Role in Space Coast Recovery
MLB has worked hard to bring it to where it is today but it is up to passengers to bring it the rest of the way. MLB spent several years rebuilding the local economy and attracting major businesses. Its first success was landing Embraer, thanks to the foresight of the airport authority which invested in infrastructure to accommodate growth, making its most attractive airside parcels “build ready.” Since 2008, Embraer has invested well over $100 million, developing not only its Phenom executive jet assembly manufacturing and paint buildings, but its global sales center and the Embraer Engineering and Technology Center. It is now building a new assembly line for its latest-generation executive jets, the Legacy 450 and 500, at MLB.
Landing Embraer paved the way for several other aviation-related businesses at MLB, including MidairUSA, which moved from Rome, N.Y., setting up and expanding new, large aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities at MLB. It is attracting international carriers for large overhauls of Boeing aircraft including 747s.
Another major victory was Project Magellan, which attracted Northrop Grumman to not only expand its facilities, but move its Long Island operation to Melbourne, bringing with it more than 3,200, high-quality jobs. It is clear that without MLB, the Space Coast would not have achieved the economic recovery it has enjoyed.
More Business Equals More Service
All this economic activity is not lost on the airlines. The larger the business base at an airport, the more
service airlines are interested in providing – and that is exactly what is happening at MLB. Delta and American Airlines have not only increased the number of daily flights in response to the increasing demand, but Delta has scheduled its larger, mainline aircraft to serve the airport, a significant acknowledgement that, in the airline world, MLB has arrived. In fact, Delta added a new flight on June 4.
“We need to build on our success,” emphasized Donovan. “We have a distinctive product at MLB and our one-hour proximity to the attractions makes it possible for us to one day flip this scenario, when Orlando passengers will want to fly out of MLB because it offers a better experience. Our passengers don’t have to deal with the congestion at OIA, especially with plans for considerable road construction on two major thoroughfares, I-4 and the GreeneWay. Not only do we have a better airport experience, but we have nearby beaches and a very vibrant and growing cruise industry.”
The sky’s the limit at MLB, and airlines are starting to take notice. Now it’s up to local passengers to take up the fight to help win nonstop service to their top destinations.