Written by The Business Journal Staff
Kevin Meikle, Interim Director of Aviation
City of Fresno – Airports Department
What I do: Chief Executive at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Fresno Chandler Executive Airport
Education: BS in architecture, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Family: I have been married for 27 years to my wonderful and supportive wife Sandy; have two boys (Kevin and Steven), two cats, and a beautiful German Shepherd.
How did you come to your position with Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Kevin?
Airport CEOs usually work their way up from a variety of aviation related backgrounds such as operations, finance, or capital development. As a licensed architect, I managed the airport capital development program for a number of years. Then was appointed assistant director of aviation. As assistant director, I was also responsible for the properties, operations, and public safety divisions of the airport. One common thread in this business is that we all have a passion for aviation. My passion began at a young age when my father took me out to Orange County Airport (when it was really small) to watch the old World War I airplanes fly on the weekends. This eventually led to becoming an instrument rated pilot, and architecture led me to the airport. After all, airports are always building something.
How has ridership bounced back at the airport in the last few years and what do you attribute that to, Kevin?
In 2012, we had 1,316,597 passengers travel through FYI — just 1,900 passengers short of our all-time record. We anticipate breaking this record in 2013, which is a reflection of the recovering economy, but also recognition by the airlines that Fresno is still a growing market. Airports are the first to feel the effects of economic downturns and upturns because flying is primarily dependent upon discretionary income and a healthy business environment. Over the last year, we have seen an increase in available seats to existing markets due to airlines transitioning to larger aircraft, new flights to Honolulu and San Diego, and most recently, Frontier Airlines began service to Denver. All of this translates into growth, which is exciting considering that on average, airlines are not currently expanding or increasing available seats within the United States.
Do you foresee good ridership coming out of the new Frontier Airlines service to Denver, Kevin?
Yes. Denver is one our most underserved markets, and Frontier knows this. United also serves Denver and we have tried to get them to add flights or increase available seats by upsizing their aircraft, but airline resources are scarce. Frontier was here in 2005, so they are familiar with our market. Since then they went into bankruptcy and came out under new leadership. They are an entirely different company with an approach to what markets they serve that is geared towards fiscal sensibility and profitability. For decades, the airlines approach to filling market demand would be to keep adding flights. Today it is very different. Decisions are based on profitability, such as what type of fares can the market support, resource availability (aircraft), etc. Frontier has started with three weekly fights, which allows them to cautiously grow into the market. Our first reports back are that the Frontiers flights have been full.
Have any other large airlines shown interest in serving Fresno? Have there been efforts to court Southwest Airlines, Kevin?
We talk to Southwest and other airlines regularly to keep them apprised of what is happening in the Fresno region. We show them how convenient it is to start up new service at FYI and what markets they can serve out of Fresno that are potentially profitable. In the short term, growth opportunities for airports of our size and type lie with increasing available seats to existing destinations either with incumbent carriers or new ones. Airlines in general are not expanding service or seats. Overall they are focused on increasing profitability by reducing available seats, which in affect reduces supply and tends to drive up airfares. Fresno is unique and fortunate in that we have seen an overall increase in available seats.
How do air fares at FYI compare with the rest of the nation, Kevin?
Airlines set airfares based on what the market can bear, which is different at each airport. Compared with airports of our size and demographics, airfares at FYI are very competitive because we have good airline competition and have seen an increase in available seats. From 2011 to 2012, FYI’s average airfare remained constant. By comparison, the U.S. average airfare increased 6% from 2011 to 2012. Contrary to traditional thinking, airlines focus on the revenues they can make and not the expenses they incur at airport. When determining whether to start new service at an airport or add additional flights/seats, an airline first looks at what type of airfare the market can support. They look at a number of factors, including demographics (median income, education levels, unemployment levels) and the presence of any major corporations, etc. Even though the cost of operating at FYI does not affect airfares or whether an airline adds new service, we still do our part to contain costs where we can. For every ticket sold, the airport receives $6.10 from the airlines, which is well below the national average of $7.66 for an airport of our size. We also have very low start-up costs due to our virtualized shared airline processing system at the ticketing counters, and now at the gates. This system eliminates the need for airlines to bring in and maintain their proprietary equipment, saving them both time and money.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Kevin?
My first job was working for an architect during the summer before I started college. Not only did this job open my eyes to the world of architecture, it also taught me discipline and respect in the work place.