Public Satisfaction Leads Indicators of Airport’s Value

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Mario Rodriguez has been executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority since 2014. Mario Rodriguez has been executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority since 2014.

Here at the Indianapolis International Airport we field a lot of questions daily. But one that follows me across industry conversations is this: “How do you become the best airport in North America?”

My response is simple: We focus on providing the maximum public value. In an environment of resource constraints and constant change, our role is to strategically manage the assets of the organization toward maximum public-value creation.

That’s a unique perspective in our industry, because most airports operate in an insular way. At the Indianapolis Airport Authority, we look at a broader picture that focuses on positively impacting our community and traveling public. A strategic win for the airport is to mirror the community’s desires, which is what we do. This produces long-term public value. 

At the Indy airport, public value is a measuring stick by which all decisions are made. We view the airport as a public asset, similar to a major interstate that carries millions of travelers across geographies and supports billions in economic development.

That value of the asset must be considered in how it is constructed, preserved and maintained, and operated – which all ties back to one important outcome: the public’s experience with the asset. To some degree that experience determines its public value.

However, unlike other public assets, Indy airport operations are not supported by state or federal tax appropriations. With the exception of some federal and state grants for special projects and initiatives, the Indy airport’s main source of income comes from self-generated revenue from airline fees, parking revenue, concessions and retail leases, in addition to building leases and the sale of non-aviation land, etc.

To create the maximum public value, we focus on connectivity, stability and sustainability, and economic development. In 2017, we had a banner year in each of these areas:

Connectivity. Recently an MIT study ranked the Indy airport as one of the most connected midsized airports in the nation– and for good reason. We offer one-stop flights to more than 400 destinations, and nonstop flights to 49 destinations – the largest in the history of the new terminal. This year alone, our airline partners added 12 flights including seven new nonstop destinations to key unserved and underserved markets. And we’ve increased our West Coast connectivity to an all-time record with three daily, nonstop flights to San Francisco, and nonstop flights into Los Angeles, Oakland, Arizona, Seattle and San Diego. In the spring, the first nonstop transatlantic flight to Paris will launch– once again making history.

Stability and Sustainability. As we look to the future, we’re finalizing plans for the 2018 launch of our “concessions refresh” initiative -- to expand the airport’s offering of local food, beverages and products that reflect the Indianapolis community, and further support the local economy. We’ve also reduced our carbon emissions to a level that is equal to removing 5,720 vehicles from the road, and launched the start of the largest airport electric shuttle bus fleet in the country. The electric fleet will reduce the airport’s carbon footprint by 15 million pounds, the equivalent of 37,000 trees. It’s these type of decisions that not only earn us invitations to speak at the United Nations and serve on federal aviation committees – but, most importantly, they earn us the biggest accolades of all: customer satisfaction.

Economic Development. Every dime of investment in public value comes back to our local economy -- and not just to the 8.5 million passengers. The Indy airport is an economic engine that supports 22,600 area jobs, facilitates economic development, and infuses $5.4 billion in local economic impact. This year Allegiant announced a $40 million investment for a new operations base creating 66 new, high-wage jobs. Additionally, the nonstop flight to Paris will generate an estimated $50 million annual economic impact on Indiana’s economy. Here at the airport, we’re already seeing the benefits, with an established cargo company expanding its lease space to benefit from the international air-cargo capacity. In addition, the Indy FedEx hub is planning to invest $385 million in upgrades to its facility providing long-term economic development.

These crucial accomplishments are more than just headline opportunities. They’re hard and measurable evidence of the value that can be delivered working together with our business partners, local and state officials and community leaders.

But the winning measurement is reflected in the experience travelers have at the Indy airport. Their satisfaction is the heart-and-soul of our success.

It is public value.

And it will continue to be the measurement by which we make decisions, determine how we serve our community, and shape the future of the Indianapolis International Airport for years to come.