Under former Aviation Director Jerry Orr, Charlotte Douglas International Airport was famous for its penny-pinching, keeping costs to a minimum in order to attract airlines to a cheap airport in a city they might have otherwise overlooked.
Now, under interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle, Charlotte Douglas is showing a willingness to spend more freely. The airports proposed $129 million budget for fiscal year 2015 is up 8 percent from fiscal 2014, with higher spending to bolster security, replace shuttle buses, pay for more janitorial services, renovate the terminal and hire more than 150 full-time workers.
Anyone whos ridden our buses lately has probably seen a ripped seat or two, said Cagle, speaking at Thursdays Charlotte Airport Commission meeting. Theres been some deferred maintenance. We need to reinvest in the facility.
For passengers, the increased spending could mean a snazzier, cleaner terminal. The airport is buying new shuttle buses to replace its aging fleet, which has caused longer waits for passengers trying to get to their cars: Cagle said 29 of the airports 59 shuttle buses werent working last week.
For about 150 shuttle drivers and others who have been working as temps without benefits, it means a $20,000 increase to their wages and benefits.
But for airlines, the increased spending means a higher cost of doing business at Charlotte Douglas. The airport projects Charlottes cost-per-enplaned passenger a measure of how much it costs the airlines to fly from an airport will rise 8 percent in fiscal 2015.
That will leave the cost-per-enplanement at Charlotte Douglas at $1.35, still the lowest for any large hub airport in the nation. Thats still far below the national average of $10.93, airport officials said.
American Airlines by far the airports biggest customer, accounting for more than 90 percent of daily flights supports Cagles budget request.
Charlotte is Americans second largest hub and we welcome any improvements that make Charlotte Douglas a better travel experience for our customers, said spokesman Davien Anderson. Orr, the former aviation director, couldnt be reached Friday.
Charlotte Douglas is an independently funded city department. The airport doesnt receive any local tax money for its operations, instead generating funds from airline landing fees, parking, terminal concessions and federal grants.
Some members of the airport commission were skeptical of the higher spending in Cagles budget presentation.
I hope next year is not an 8 percent increase, said Joe Carpenter, a Gaston County commissioner who serves on the airport board. Another commissioner asked Cagle to reassure him that there are no $1,000 hammers in the airports budget.
For now, however, the commission is blocked by a judge from actually running the airport, amid a legal battle between the city and state for control of Charlotte Douglas. The airport remains under city control, reporting to City Manager Ron Carlee and the Charlotte City Council. Cagles presentation to the airport commission was informational only.
Charlotte grew to be a major hub because US Airways and its predecessors were attracted by its low costs. On its own, the city doesnt have a large enough local market to support the 700 or so flights a day that take off from Charlotte. More than three quarters of the airports passengers are connecting from one flight to another, mostly on American Airlines.
The number of passengers using Charlotte Douglas has increased sharply, climbing more than 70 percent in the past decade to top 43.5 million last year.
Heres some of what the increased spending at the airport covers:
• $2.2 million: Safety and security enhancements, including hiring a new public safety manager, eight dispatchers for airport emergency personnel and two new fire department battalion chiefs. Forty-six temporary traffic officers and other airport staff will be converted to full-time employees.
• $3.5 million: Parking and ground transportation, including conversion of 100 temporary shuttle-bus drivers to full-time employees with benefits such as health coverage and retirement accounts, as well as implementing a new parking management contract with a private company.
• $2.2 million: Increased maintenance and facility services, including more janitorial workers on nights and weekends, more luggage conveyor staff, hiring new maintenance staff and adding more Internet bandwidth.
• $1 million: Business and administration, including hiring an auditor, more staff to manage contracts, new public affairs staff and more staff in the finance division.
• $580,000: New technology, including services for 24 new automated passport kiosks for returning international travelers to use.
Cagle said Charlotte Douglas is still committed to its low-cost roots, despite the increased budget this year. He said all of the increased spending is supported by the airlines.
We grow based on demand, Cagle said. We dont build it and hope theyll come.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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