Executive director of Piedmont Triad International Airport discusses business during time of limited travel

Newsmakers

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Kevin Baker’s among the Piedmont’s preeminent multi-taskers.

As executive director of the Piedmont Triad International Airport, he’s an engineer, a manager, a landlord as well as an economic developer.

In a way, he oversees what is potentially the Piedmont Triad’s largest employer. Six-thousand people work on the airport’s “campus” and are employed by several different companies. But Baker has to keep all those companies happy.

Despite all these responsibilities, Baker’s still primarily a travel executive. And in this area his business has essentially been shut down due to COVID-19.

For instance, before the coronavirus the PTI Airport averaged about 60 to 65 flights a day. Today, that average is about eight or nine. And for an airport that gets no taxpayer money, that’s a big deal.

I profiled Baker as a Newsmaker a few years back not long after he took the job from the late Ted Johnson, who retired in 2010. Because of the pandemic, Baker (like so many other former local Newsmakers) is making news once again.

I recently spoke with him via internet chat. Here’s a transcription of that conversation (edited for brevity):

*Neill*

“The airport terminal, how would you describe what it looks like right now?”

*Kevin Baker, executive director, Piedmont Triad International Airport*

“’Empty’ will be the easiest way to describe it. ‘Sad’ would be another one. During times when there’s no operations going on, like right now. I just walked in from out there right now and there’s barely any soul in the main terminal. So it’s sad.”

*Neill*

“Are you able to buy food from a food vendor in the airport terminal right now?”

*Kevin Baker*

“Our concessionaires of both food and other concessions are available or open. But they’re on a limited basis now. They used to be open pretty much the whole day or until the last departure of the day at least. And now they’re trying to schedule their hours around whenever there’s high volumes of folks in the building.”

*Neill*

“Car rental companies, are they open?”

*Kevin Baker*

“You can still rent a car. But you know just like all the concessionaires, obviously, they’re not doing a lot of business at this time.”

*Neill*

“Early on, you described the drop in the number of passengers as precipitous, down 70%. Is that percentage still about the same or has it changed any?”

*Kevin Baker*

“On a total passenger basis, our lowest day bottom water was April the 18th, a Saturday. We had 75 people fly out of this airport that entire day. Compare and contrast that to the same day a year before, on a Saturday, we had 2,750, something like that. But 75 people in one day, that’s normally one regional jet going up to New York. So this is near zero. We just went to zero. It’s really, really bad. Now on a positive note, we’ve been ever since April 18th, we’ve been coming back pretty significantly, on the order of about 20-25% each week. But when you’re starting off with 75 passengers, having 25% growth is what, adding 19, 18 people. So (it’s) not exactly something to get too excited about.”

*Neill*

“PTI did receive $16.4 million from the federal Cares Act. I know you have at least or had in 2019 operating expenses of some $17 million. But what does this Cares Act money mean for the airport? I assume it would just be a lifeline.”

*Kevin Baker*

“It is. And I think it’s that for all airports in the country. Basically our operating budget for 2020 is just under $20 million actually. If we kept epense levels at what we had thought they would be in a normal operating year, obviously, we’re going to cut back those expenses whereever and whenever possible.”

*Neill*

Give me a couple of examples or what you’re doing to save money right now.”

*Kevin Baker*

“If it’s an expense, we’re considering it seriously on a line-by-line basis and figuring out where we can cut those back. The only one you’re going to see continue is the roadway project that’s out in front of the terminal and the upper level. It’s been underway for probably about a year now to rebuild that back which had been falling apart pretty much.”

*Neill*

“PTI certainly has an advantage over many other small airports in that you have a thriving aerospace industry out there on your campus. But looking at the aerospace business there, the airport as a whole, has the pandemic affected it at all?”

*Kevin Baker*

“Our employers, I think, to varying levels I don’t want to speak for them individually. But I think the big employers are still continuing to work at varying levels because they’re having to meet all the same standards that the rest of the world is.”

*Neill*

“The new control tower project, very impressive. You can’t help but notice it when you drive by the airport. Has the pandemic affected it in any way?”

*Kevin Baker”

“Work on the control tower continues at least at a slower pace. I think that it’s probably going to affect their schedule a little bit. But they’re continuing to work right now.”

*Neill*

“When passenger traffic ramps up again, how confident are you the airlines are going to come back to Greensboro with the same number of flights that they had before the pandemic?”

*Kevin Baker*

“It’s a matter of how many people in our area decide that they want to go back to fly and the airlines will meet that demand with the services. We have to be realistic here. This is not going to pop back in six months. I’ll be the happiest one if I’m wrong. But in time, which we will get back to normal, we look forward to seeing the terminal full of people again as opposed to what we’ll see out there now.”

For more information on the Piedmont Triad International Airport, click here

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