Melbourne International Airport has enjoyed its fair share of banner years lately. First there was the Embraer economic development coup in 2008; then a record 59 percent increase in passenger traffic in 2010. Most recently, MLB helped secure more than 1,000 new Space Coast jobs.
That kind of success was made possible by a strong partnership between the Melbourne Airport Authority Board and the airport’s Executive Director Richard A. Ennis.
Much has changed since Ennis took over as executive director in 2005. Supported by what he calls a “visionary board, with checks and balances in place,” Ennis and the MAA have chalked up successes other regional airports have only dreamed of earning.
In the span of eight years, the airport has lured U.S. Airways back into the fold and passenger traffic has climbed, breaking the 400,000 mark in 2012 for the second time in a decade. More significantly, Melbourne International Airport has emerged as a powerhouse economic engine for the Space Coast.
“Richard Ennis is the epitome of tenacity and perseverance,” said Christine Michaels, Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce president. “Without his relentless efforts, Melbourne International Airport would not have the carriers and services we enjoy today, which enable our tourism efforts to grow.”
Setting the Course
Early on, Ennis and the MAA Board recognized that in a deteriorating economy an alternative revenue stream was needed. They soon developed a strategy to establish MLB in a new and potentially lucrative arena. “We succeeded in positioning Melbourne International Airport, not only as a closer, convenient alternative to Orlando for travelers, but also as a prime location for aviation and aerospace industry,” said longtime MAA Chairman Harry Goode.
Indeed, the strategy has redefined the airport. Today, it is one of the world’s fastest growing aviation and aerospace manufacturing and maintenance hubs.
The transformation began in 2008 when the airport landed the coveted Embraer aircraft assembly plant and customer center. Securing the world’s third-largest aviation manufacturer as a tenant was clearly reason to celebrate. But the real dividend was that Embraer’s presence put Melbourne International on the economic development map.
Since then, the airport has landed aviation maintenance giants AAR Airlift Group and MidairUSA as well as ancillary service providers, such as Brazilian design firm Archo Solutions Engineering. Embraer expanded its footprint by adding an engineering center in 2012. Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman announced that Melbourne would be home to its new Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence and its reported 900 new jobs.
All told, the additions have had a significant impact on the region’s economy, creating more than 2,400 new and temporary jobs, sparking more than $150 million in capital improvements and building more than 650,000 square feet of new manufacturing and maintenance space.
Team Effort, Team Success
“Key to our success was building great community partnerships with the state, the City of Melbourne, Brevard County and the local economic development commission,” Ennis said. “But we wouldn’t be where we are today without the vision shown by our Airport Authority Board and a fiscally responsible business plan.”
Business leaders recognize and appreciate the board’s vision and Ennis’ nose-to-the-grindstone approach. “His economic development savvy has come through time and time again to land us tenants that enhance the prestige and strength of our economic base,” Michaels said. “Richard’s experience and skills are truly assets to the economic development success of our region.”
From Ennis’ perspective, the bottom line is this: Consistent adherence to solid management practices and a dynamic business plan are at the heart of the airport’s success. The MAA’s support and input was crucial in crafting that approach, which has achieved significant success without raising tenant rates or depleting reserve funds.
“We got to where we are today because we have a business-minded board engaged in the development of this airport,” Ennis said. “Fortunately, we also have a truly dedicated staff that supports every aspect of our operation.”