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JAA's new CEO talks spaceport, international flights, government shutdown
Jan 18, 2019
By Will Robinson – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal
Newly named CEO Mark VanLoh addresses JAA's board for the first time.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority's new CEO, Mark VanLoh, has big shoes to fill. VanLoh, hired in November, succeeds Steve Grossman, who finished a nine-year tenure at JAA with the highest passenger count in more than a decade, the highest revenue in the authority's 50-year history and new routes announced by four airlines.
VanLoh came to JAA from the Tulsa Airports Authority, where he was CEO, and is the former director of aviation for Kansas City, Missouri, and former president of the Chattanooga Airport Authority in Tennessee. He was selected to be CEO of JAA from a pool of 73 candidates.
VanLoh sat down with the Business Journal on Friday to discuss his vision for his new role.
What attracted you to this position?
It’s a relatively small industry. There’s only about 400 airports in the United States that have commercial service, and this is one of the top-run airports in the country. I’ve known that for a long time, and I’ve been watching and watching. When the opportunity came open, I jumped.
This the ultimate. You’ve got something for everybody that loves aviation. We’ve got the spaceport, we’ve got general aviation for the barnstormers on the weekends, we’ve got a corporate airport for the private jet guys and then we’ve got this monster up here [Jacksonville International Airport]. It’s got everything. And of course the location doesn’t hurt either.
What are some challenges unique to running JAA?
It takes everything you’ve ever learned in your career. That’s why I feel like I’ve sort of been waiting this long to accumulate all the skills I have because it’s a different mindset at each airport.
You’ve got the people at Herlong [Recreational Airport] who rent space from you and buy gas, and they just want to be left alone; just let me fly… Then the other extreme, you’ve got the airport up here where we’re very security-oriented, everybody’s got a badge and it’s serious business… Then you’ve got the spaceport, which is up and coming, and I think is going to be tremendous over the next few years.
JAA is in the process of developing a masterplan for the next several years. What are things you are hoping or expecting to see come from that?
We’re pretty sure it’s going to tell us, “You better get started on Concourse B.” We’re running low on gate space, especially in the mornings. All the airlines love to park here overnight, and we like them to because that means we get an early morning flight for the business traveler...
We’ve got growth happening as we speak. Frontier just announced Raleigh-Durham last week. Spirit Airlines started last month. Things are happening, and you can’t wait till you’re out of space and then decide to build gates because that takes years.
We’ve got to start now, and I think this masterplan is going to tell us, “Get busy.” If an airline can’t find a gate here, they’re going to go somewhere else. We don’t want them to go to Tampa or Orlando, they need to be here.
You're starting at a unique time with the partial government shutdown. What are things you're monitoring or having to work around logistically?
The thing the public sees is the controllers and the screening employees and the TSA because that affects them. What they don’t see are the places where we get our federal funding and our grant applications and everything we have to send to Washington to get approved, that’s not happening. Nothing is happening.
The best we can hope for is to keep the employees happy, coming to work and doing their jobs. So far, we haven’t seen a blip at all. Now as this continues, of course we get more worried. But for right now, they’re dedicated, they’re coming in and we have no security lines.
If you were looking back on your tenure at JAA, what do you want to have achieved?
I want to be able to attract the service that our customers want. We’ve got some targets out there. We know we need better West Coast service. We would like to see some international service to Europe with the new aircraft that could do it now without a stop.
I’d like to be able to say we got the service that Jacksonville deserved and that business travelers wanted. I want to leave the place in a better position financially than I found it, which will be tough to do because we’re in great shape.
And then I’d like to see growth in the spaceport industry. I’d like to see Cecil realize it’s full potential because that is an unpainted canvas right now. There’s so much land out there ready for development, and you’re starting to see it with Amazon and all the other facilities out there.
I’d like to see our general aviation guys happy and able to get in their plane and fly whenever, where ever they want to and not be harassed by too many government regulations. I’d like to keep all facets of aviation happy.