The Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport is not a large airport by any means. But it’s more of a Game Changer for the region than most people realize.
“On a daily basis, (the) Pensacola airport services more passengers than (the) Mobile and Fort Walton airports added together,” says Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport Director Melinda Crawford. “And we do it without one dollar of local tax money.”
Since the airport is often an outsider’s first and last impression of the area, Crawford believes it’s vital that it offer top-notch service with room to grow.
“We’re aware that anybody that comes into this region…looking to locate here or expand here, it’s critical for them to have a vibrant, growing airport.”
The airport has grown significantly over the years, both in traffic and in the level of service it provides.
“From 2001-2008 we had grown 57 percent in passenger traffic,” says Crawford. “There was a slight downturn. But if you look from 2001-2011, we’ve grown about 37 percent.”
At its peak, the airport was servicing around 1.6 million passengers a year.
“We did have a slight downturn, but we’re going back toward that number,” says Crawford.
The airport’s growth was due in part to the acquisition of low-cost carrier AirTran Airways.
“(AirTran) changed the dynamic of the market, because the other airlines responded. They saw how…the users of this facility were able to support the AirTran service, (and they) started looking at us and…bringing in additional service.”
As with every airport in the country, the September 11 attacks forced Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport to upgrade its security capabilities. Crawford insists that, despite more invasive security measures, the customer experience has always been top-of-mind.
“We put in a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind inline baggage screening system. You can now walk up and place your baggage on the counter, and in three minutes it’s gone through that system.”
The security screening area has also been expanded from 1,500 square feet to 8,000 square feet.
“We can’t do anything about the processes,” says Crawford. “They are what they are. But we can make sure that our passengers have the best area in which to be screened.”
Security isn’t the only area in which the airport has grown. Expanded parking and rental car options have allowed customers to utilize rental car facilities without leaving the confines of the garage or terminal. And additional loading bridges have drastically reduced the number of passengers who have to board from the ground.
The landscape development and hotel construction currently occurring on Airport Boulevard and 12th Avenue will further impact the airport’s growth.
“That’s going to be a great first impression for our region,” says Crawford. “And it’s going to take us to another level.”
The new developments could also yield benefits for passengers.
“(The hotel) generates non-airline revenues, which allows us to reduce the rates we charge our airlines. (That) allows us to be more competitive with our neighboring airports.”
For Crawford, the ability to grow is perhaps the most important attribute an airport can possess.
“An airport has to continue to look at its infrastructure to make sure that it’s not only (ready) to accommodate for the present, but it’s able to accommodate for any future growth.”
“That’s one thing that Pensacola’s been able to do quite well.”
Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport
2430 Airport Blvd.