A lot can change in 9 years!

In April 2014, I profiled Piedmont-Triad International Airport Executive Director Kevin Baker.

Back then, just 4,500 people worked on what I like to call the airport’s “campus.” It’s basically the airport and all the companies that are next to airport property and have access to the airport runways.

Today, nearly 9,000 people work there. And that number’s about to grow even larger.

But for Baker—like it was 9 years ago—his two-fold mission is the same: maintain and grow the airport as a travel destination as well as a job creator.

“That is our mission statement to make sure we are watching out for both of those things,” he told me recently before we boarded the airport authority’s big new SUV. (Baker uses it to—among other things— take company executives who are considering building/expanding at the airport around to look at available sites.)

There aren’t many airports across the country that have gotten as much national and world attention as job creators during the last several years as PTI.

Much of that has to do with Boom Supersonic’s decision to build what it calls a “superfactory” to build jets that will travel faster than the speed of sound just north and west of the airport’s newer runway. Work on the building’s foundation is well underway.

It’s a $500 million investment that will result in more than 1,700 jobs with the potential of more as the company continues to grow.

And on a site that will be just across a taxiway from Boom’s factory, Marshall Aerospace plans to build a $50 million, 250-employee maintenance facility.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” Baker said. “And what I mean by that is but for the decisions made by people 10, 20, 50 years ago to buy land to extend runways, to do the things that were necessary for us to even be competitive, we wouldn’t be here.”

One of PTI’s biggest advantages it has over other airports on the job creation front is available land.

The Boom and Marshall sites represent just 10% of the available land the airport has for development. It also has more than 1,000 acres across the taxiway bridge over Interstate 73 that’s practically shovel-ready.

Baker didn’t hesitate when I asked him if it were feasible to think a major passenger aircraft manufacturer (think Boeing or Airbus) would be interested.

“It’s absolutely feasible. There’s no question. I think the industry really has its eyes on us,” he told me.

But in addition to recruiting job creators, Baker and his team are still hunting passenger carriers to carry the traveling public to more destinations.

“Unfortunately, over the last 3 or 4 years, there hasn’t been much hunting to be done because the airlines are just trying to survive through COVID,” he said.

Things are turning around.

The combined number of PTI passengers boarding for departures and returning for arrivals is up but still well below what it was before COVID.

To make up for the losses of still-struggling regional carriers, the major carriers that fly into and out of PTI (including Delta and American) are flying larger aircraft here to meet the demand.

Earlier this month, the low-cost carrier Silver Airways announced it will fly daily non-stops to Orlando and Nashville from PTI. United Airlines has also announced it plans to start non-stop service from Greensboro to Denver in late September.

And Baker expects the number of carriers will continue to grow—with a caveat: the region will have to support them.

“If we don’t fill these airplanes, they (the carriers) are not going to stay,” he said.

However, it’s still easy to spot unused gates, jetways and ticket counters. Baker says the airport authority is considering addressing that.

“There are 25 gates now,” he said. “We’ll have something less than that. I don’t know what that number would be. But (the gate areas) will be expandable to 25 or bigger if we ever needed it.”

Not much work has been done to the lower level baggage claim area since the current terminal opened in 1982. Baker also says to expect some changes there.

And in addition to the new escalators that take passengers to and from that lower level, the airport’s in the process of replacing all entrance doors and all restrooms on site are getting makeovers.

“I would encourage them (the Piedmont-Triad community) to recognize and see this airport as different than any other they’ve probably ever been in,” he told me. “Yes, it is a place of transportation but also—and maybe more importantly— a place of employment, and it’s going to be that in droves going forward.”

In fact, right now PTI has more aerospace industry employees working on its campus than all the other airports in North Carolina combined!

It really makes you wonder what PTI will look like 9 years from now!

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