Punching beyond their reach – Airport World


MXD’s Chris LeTourneur explores how mid-sized regional airports are driving revenue growth through commercial and logistics development.

Mid-sized regional airports have always been critical economic engines for their adjacent regions, by facilitating passenger connectivity with larger gateway airports and business markets.

They have also had the benefit of an abundance of land beyond what is needed to serve the growth of airside operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the importance of revenue diversification for airports and their adjacent regions. Mid-sized regional airports are embracing this opportunity not only to be recognised as ‘passenger airports’, but also as ‘industrial-commercial airports’.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, mid-sized airports were developing some of the most entrepreneurial initiatives in commercial, industrial, logistics and innovation projects, recognising their role in stimulating economic development.

This activity is not purely dependent on air transportation, but also relies on ground connectivity, supporting the design, manufacturing and distribution of goods, as well as aviation.

Logistics, particularly for e-commerce and perishables including food and bio-products, have been driving growth trends, even before the current pandemic. This growth has accelerated in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, recognising that regions served by mid-sized airports are completely dependent on the supply chain for delivering retail, health care and daily goods such as groceries, food and medications.

One of the prime examples of mid-sized airport economic positioning is Memphis International Airport (MEM). The merger of Delta Airlines with Northwest Airlines in 2008 and consequent dehubbing of MEM saw air passenger traffic drop dramatically.

As a result, MEM, the City of Memphis and Shelby County recognised that with the FedEx World Hub anchor and adjacent UPS facilities, MEM’s role as a facilitator of logistics and related economic development was as equally important as serving passenger traffic.

The result has been the clustering of one of North America’s strongest multi-modal logistics hubs, as well as a concentration of time-sensitive bio-life science and medical device manufacturing and distribution businesses including Medtronic, McKesson and Smith & Nephew, who rely on this logistics network.

Factors driving mid-sized regional airport development include:

  • Mid-sized airports have residual lands and labour to facilitate development and industry.
  • Progressive mid-sized airports have established partnerships with private sector developers and multiple levels of government to facilitate development.
  • Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mid-sized airports were embracing logistics, innovation and advanced manufacturing as key components of their airport master plans.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated the demand for logistics facilities particularly for accommodating e-commerce, perishables and health care/bio-life sciences items.
  • Mid-sized airports have the ability to be agile in responding to disruptions and opportunities. The following profiles illustrate how mid-sized regional airports and their partners are embracing these trends.

Regina International Airport (YQR): Implementing strategic development

Regina International Airport (YQR), operated by the Regina Airport Authority (RAA) and situated in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, established an Airport Commercial Development Strategy long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

This strategy started with investments to create an Airside Business Park to facilitate next generation typologies for airside businesses, including the new 32,000 square foot Kreos FBO facility on a four acre plot of land.

Sitting at the western edge of the city, halfway between downtown Regina and the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) to the west, YQR has embraced market opportunities for commercial, light industrial and logistics…

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