DAPHNE — Mobile’s new international airport will have a major impact on Baldwin County and Baldwin County will help the Brookley facility attract more flights and business to the region, …
DAPHNE — Mobile’s new international airport will have a major impact on Baldwin County and Baldwin County will help the Brookley facility attract more flights and business to the region, Mobile Airport Authority Director Chris Curry said Thursday, Aug. 25.
Curry met with Baldwin County elected officials and members of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce to discuss plans to move the regional airport from Bates Field in west Mobile to the former Air Force base site near downtown.
Curry said the authority plans to open the new airport in early 2025. He said the new airport and the attractions that a combined Mobile and Baldwin market offer will bring in more, competitive airline services.
“I do believe that we will be very attractive to other carriers because of the cost differential, because of the growth of the community, with Baldwin County, Airbus expansion, Novelis coming to the area, all of these things make a difference with the airlines,” Curry said. “It is so dynamic, the things that are going on in the combined community.”
Baldwin County and Mobile offer a very desirable market for both commercial and tourist travel, Curry said.
“Mobile is more of a business community than leisure,” Curry said. “So, when an airline looks at Mobile, they say, you're probably 75% to 80% industry heavy, but you have very little leisure and some carriers in the industry are leisure carriers, so if that's the balance that Mobile has, it's very unlikely that we will get a leisure carrier because they will not view our market that way. However, when you bring in Baldwin County, which has a tremendous leisure component, now you can see that the lift into this community is about 50-50. You have Gulf Shores. You have Orange Beach. You have Point Clear. You have all those places that are considered leisure. So, it really makes us a balanced region when we're together. If we're not together then neither one of us is quite whole.”
Curry said the two counties also represent a growing community of about 750,000. He said new or expanding industries, such as Airbus in Mobile and the planned Novelis aluminum plant in Bay Minette, make the area a desirable market for airlines.
“When you're trying to sell that product on an international level, Mobile is just the location that the airport is located, but from our view, Mobile is a regional asset,” Curry said. “So, when Baldwin County wins, Mobile wins. When you bring in a company like Novelis, Novelis has the same impact to us as an Airbus expansion and we promote that in the same way, because it's likely that a large company that has any transportation needs will rely on the Port of Mobile and the Mobile International Airport located downtown.”
Curry came to Mobile in 2017. He said he and others realized that the current Mobile airport is not in a location that will attract air service or growth.
“Initially, I drove to the regional airport just so I could understand what the airport was like if I got the opportunity to work in Mobile and the first thing that I thought is why in the devil is an airport located here? It doesn't make any sense to me,” Curry said. “You've got two interstates that run through the city and the transportation system is just not based on the airport, it's based on the entire network and so if you're not taking advantage of your interstate system and you have an airport, you've sort of missed the boat. You're nine miles off of Interstate 10 and seven miles off of Interstate 65 with 21 traffic lights, then something went wrong with your planning.”
Curry said the location of the airport is one reason Mobile has limited air service. A lack of competing airlines in Mobile also means higher prices. He said 55% of customers in the Mobile-Baldwin area fly out of other airlines with many using airports in Pensacola or New Orleans.
Moving to the downtown site should change those numbers, Curry said.
“The upside of moving to downtown is now, you're taking advantage of your interstate system,” Curry said. “You've got two major interstates within four miles of the airport. You have the water access. You have the co-location with the Port of Mobile. You have the rail system that comes through. This is all the things that the industry has talked about for the last 15 years, but many cities are not able to do it simply because they do not have the geographic location to do it.”
The downtown airport site is the former site of Brookley Air Force Base, which was closed in the 1960s. The site is now the location of the Mobile Airbus assembly plant and other commercial operations.
Curry said the new airport terminal is expected to cost about $320 million. He said most of the costs should be paid through federal funding or other sources.
The new terminal will be constructed with five gates and have a capacity to expand to 12 gates.