NAME: Greg Donovan
COMPANY/TITLE: Executive Director, Melbourne International Airport (MLB)
YEARS IN BREVARD: Less than one (FIT graduate)
On a typical day, what types of tasks and responsibilities do you tackle?
Melbourne International Airport is a 24/7/365 operation that requires the highest levels of safety and security – priorities that get unwavering focus on a daily basis. Since the airport is a self-sustaining enterprise, time is also dedicated to making business and financial decisions, developing leases and cultivating business agreements. Setting aside time each day to build a collaborative spirit based upon strategic thinking is necessary for consistent wins.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It is the synergy of the airport authority and our enthusiastic, hard-working employees that makes coming to work so rewarding. Together, we are tackling projects that may take years to realize, but at the end of the day, we know we were part of something that will provide benefit for generations to come.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Unlike many government or utility operations, competition is fierce within the aviation industry. We are directly competing against at least 429 commercial airports in the U.S. alone that are vying for the same airlines. My job is to ensure that our airport costs are competitive and that various business models will thrive at MLB. It is a complex, constantly changing job that I have wanted to do since getting my pilot’s license as a teenager. In the shadow of a large facility such as Orlando International Airport (MCO) and with continued airline consolidation, air service development is not easy. Like a business, we must advertise and market our products in order to win. But MLB has some unique advantages and potentials that have not been aggressively marketed in the past. We are working hard to make sure that businesses, particularly airlines, fully understand all of the opportunities at MLB.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way in your career?
Empower your people. Make sure that they have the necessary tools and they will surprise you with the effectiveness and ingenuity.
Summarize your vision for MLB in 2015.
To visitors, our terminal building is the front door to the Space Coast. It must be both welcoming and efficient in its operations. We must transform our terminal and update many elements that have been in place since 1989. Even our Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) is nearly 50 years old, requiring a total replacement to stay current with operational needs. On a broader scale, we are initiating our Airport Master Plan process. It is essential that we get participation and input from the community and all user groups.
Explain MLB as a strategic asset to the Brevard community.
Back in 2012, Brevard County’s unemployment rate was at 12 percent. Today it is just above 6 percent. Many of those job replacements came as a result of a visionary airport authority in partnership with our other community leaders, working to attract businesses that would benefit from our highly skilled workforce. Today we are working just as hard to bring new air service to our community.
What about MLB do you wish everyone in Brevard knew?
That we are not the recipient of local tax dollars – we are self-sufficient. Also, people are surprised to hear that our runways can facilitate the world’s largest aircraft. We are a designated Foreign Trade Zone with U.S. Customs officers on-site with a fully equipped international concourse.
We are one step away from bringing large groups of passengers to the Space Coast from places like Canada, Europe and South America. All are now within reach and we have the facilities to accommodate them. We are in contact with the airlines daily – and yes, with the ones you would expect – and with some others that might surprise you. Airlines are fast realizing that the cost to conduct business at MLB is dramatically less than our counterparts (one of the lowest in the state).
What economic role does MLB play in Brevard?
The airport’s entire $28 million annual budget is supported by airport-generated revenue. We provide over $1.2 billion in positive economic impact every year to our community and are responsible for employing over 7,000 people. This is accomplished without any ad valorem or general sales tax revenues. A graduate student from FIT has agreed to focus his thesis to update our economic impact numbers. We believe that with updated data input, those numbers will soar.
What are the biggest challenges MLB faces?
Currently, we are sharing too many of our potential customers with Orlando International Airport. As we expand air service with more non-stops, as many as three-fourths of our passengers will need to be wooed back to support our hometown airport. But if local travelers filled every existing seat now, we might get those routes sooner.
What message does MLB aim to communicate to the greater Central Florida? How is it marketed?
A recent report from the FAA confirms that ticket prices from MLB rival that of MCO/Orlando. It appears that locals have gotten out of the habit to check MLB fares first. We need to change that. We’re embarking on a new campaign to Fly MLB: Where flying is fun. It’s not fun to make the drive to Orlando, pay tolls and higher parking fees as well as to endure longer security lines, and you don’t get that good feeling of helping your hometown airport to succeed.
How do you see MLB growing beyond 2015?
We have the advantage of being an airport authority with a board that is strictly focused on airport matters. Speaking as past president of the Florida Airports Council, I can attest that authority-run airports are optimal and can make more timely decisions, keeping better pace with business. Authority leaderships are historically more business-focused and are less bureaucratic than airports run as a department within a larger organization. We are able to be responsive and nimble to the extent that world aviation leaders such as Embraer and Northrop Grumman are comfortable making long-term commitments and growing more rapidly than anticipated. As a result, we have landed thousands of jobs that other communities worked just as hard to attract. And we’re just getting started.