DAPHNE — The planned Mobile International Airport will bring transportation options and services closer for much of Baldwin County when it opens in 2025, Chris Curry, Mobile Airport Authority …
DAPHNE — The planned Mobile International Airport will bring transportation options and services closer for much of Baldwin County when it opens in 2025, Chris Curry, Mobile Airport Authority director, told members of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce.
Curry spoke with members during the chamber's Eggs and Issues series of morning discussions. He said the new terminal will be built at the downtown Brookley complex. The site, which is also the location of the Airbus aircraft assembly plant, was built as an Air Force base before being closed in the 1960s.
He said moving the region's main airport from the current Mobile Regional Airport site in west Mobile will put the service closer to about 140,000 more people, including the population of the Eastern Shore.
"This is a much different concept than what's generally happening in the industry overall," Curry said. "If you go to most cities, the airports are built as far away from the city as possible. We're actually doing the reverse, bringing it much closer to the city and much closer to the population base, which, by the way, includes Baldwin County. Baldwin County is a significant piece in our thought to move the commercial service downtown."
The Baldwin County market not only adds many people to the service area near the new airport, but also provides a market for leisure travelers, Curry said. He said that while Baldwin County has a strong tourism market, almost all the visitors drive to the beaches and other areas.
"I remember meeting with one of the airlines and I showed him a picture of Orange Beach," Curry said. "I said 'where do you think this is?' He said 'oh, that's Florida.' I said we have the same water, the same sand, the same sun and they just didn't believe it wasn't Florida."
The airport will also help bring convention business to some of the resorts in Baldwin County, Curry said. Convention planners prefer to use sites that are no more than 45 minutes driving time from an airport. The Brookley facility will bring sites such as the Grand Hotel within that distance.
Curry said the current site is not popular with airlines or passengers. He said about 43% of the passengers in the area closer to the Mobile airport than other facilities, fly out of Mobile. Most of the other 57% use Pensacola or New Orleans.
"So, we have to figure out a way to fix that because at the bottom we don't want to see dollars that can improve our infrastructure going to these neighboring states," Curry said.
He said the percentage for Baldwin passengers is less. When Frontier Airlines flew out of the Brookley airport about two years ago, however, the percentage of Baldwin travelers was much more.
"One of the things that Frontier taught us is that with this location, we can attract a significant amount of Baldwin County residents," Curry said. For example, today, Mobile Regional Airport captures one out of every 10 passengers from Baldwin County, which is not a good number. But when Frontier operated from this airport downtown, they captured six out of every 10, so we know this location will work."
Construction of the Mobile International Airport terminal is scheduled to start in early 2023 and take two years. The terminal will have five gates when it opens, and officials plan to expand the facility to 12 gates as traffic increases.
The new airport is expected to cost about $330 million. Curry said the Mobile Airport Authority has about $207 million in federal, state and local funding committed.
He said authority members plan to build the airport without borrowing money, which will lower operating costs. Lower costs will reduce the amount airlines must pay the airport, which should reduce fares.
The cost for each passenger flying out of the Mobile Regional Airport is $14. The same cost at Pensacola is $6. Curry said costs at the new airport will be less than those at Pensacola.
The Brookley facility will also be much more convenient for passengers and businesses using the facility. The site is located on I-10 and next to the Port of Mobile. The airport also has rail access.
The current airport is located several miles from either I-10 or I-65 and not near rail or port facilities.
"We were simply trying to determine whether it was feasible to relocate the air service component. We considered leaving it in west Mobile but in order to make that work in west Mobile, you had to build overpasses and you had to do some other things so that you could get to the airport much easier," Curry said. "That airport is located seven and nine miles off both Interstate 65 and I-10 and we figured that effort would take too long because then you would have to disrupt communities, businesses as you're looking to build the bypass. So, we quickly moved on from there."
Curry said new airport location will also help local industries, such as Airbus and ST Aerospace, both located at Brookley, as well as Baldwin companies, such as the Novelis aluminum plant now under construction in Bay Minette.
"What goes on in Baldwin County is just as important to Mobile because I assure you that this company opening in Baldwin County, if they need products, it's going to flow either through the Port of Mobile or through the Mobile International Airport, so even though we are located in Mobile, we are there to provide a transportation solution for this entire region," Curry said.