Thursday, Aug. 3, was just another day when Chris Curry, who runs Tallahassee International Airport, had to confront the harsh realities of the airport business.
Curry took part in a panel during an airport convention in Charlotte. Three other airport executives came from major hubs in Atlanta, Charlotte and Seattle; the fourth was from Oakland, Calif., a Southwest Airlines Inc. (LUV) focus city with a lot of growth by international carriers.
At one point, other airport executives discussed the difficulties of keeping up with passenger demand, even though Atlanta has an ongoing $6 billion improvement project, Charlotte has a $2.5 billion improvement project and Seattle has a $2 billion improvement project. "I wish I had some of the same problems," Curry said.
Since airline deregulation in 1978, airports have been clearly separated into a rigid caste system. At the top are big city airports and hub airports that provide far more air service than can be justified by their city's population. That is perhaps two dozen airports. The rest, if they are lucky, get service to hubs along with a smattering of flights to other destinations.
Tallahassee has flights to Atlanta, to three American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) hubs including Miami, and to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa on Silver Airways. It has 20 daily departures and handled 713,986 passengers in 2016.
So Curry looks to the future.
He meets regularly with Southwest executives, hoping to lure service. "I meet with them four times a year," he said, following the panel discussion. He has met with executives of Canadian carriers WestJet and Enerjet. Given Tallahassee's location, he also eyes Latin America for passenger and cargo service.
Nothing to announce yet. But in 2015, the airport changed its name from Tallahassee Regional to Tallahassee International Airport. Curry is working to get a Customers and Border Protection designation for the airport -- another necessity for international service. Additionally, the road to the airport from Interstate 10, four miles away, is being widened.
"Build it and they will come," Curry said.
He offered a quick evaluation of Florida's other airports. Fort Lauderdale International Airport "is busting at the seams," he said, while airports in Miami, Orlando and Tampa have no more space to grow.
That leaves Tallahassee, a state capital as well as the home of a major university, as the logical place to build cargo and passenger infrastructure. Nearby Jacksonville International, also in North Florida, "is on equal footing" with Tallahassee, he said, but Jacksonville caters more to leisure traffic while Tallahassee draws a higher percentage of business travelers.