Manchester-Boston Airport Chief: MHT Still 'High Value' for Passengers

Oct 12, 2018

Manchester Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H.
Credit Adam Fagen/FLICKR

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has seen a steady decline in passengers within the last decade.

Ted Kitchens is the new director for the state's largest airport, and he joined Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to talk about how he plans to keep services in Manchester competitive with other airports in New England.

Can you first tell us a little bit about your background and where you were before coming to New Hampshire?

Sure. I was the general manager at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houstin, Texas, for three years. Before that I was a deputy director at a small hub airport in Virginia - Newport News Williamsburg International Airport.

So how will you translate your experience from a much larger airport to a small city like Manchester?

At the end of the day it's the same Federal Aviation Administration regulations. It's the same Department of Homeland Security regulations that we are upheld to and are expected to meet every day, be it George Bush Airport or here at Manchester Boston. At the end of the day our primary mission is to make certain that we operate a safe and efficient airport in compliance with all federal rules and regulations and state rules and regulations and that is true at any airport that an airport manager works.

As you're settling into the position though what are some of the specific challenges you might see here in Manchester? What do you see as as going well what you see is maybe you know you can envision some future changes. What's your assessment?

So one of the things I'm working on right now is interviewing, sitting down on a 1 to 1 basis with each of the employees and then I'll extend that to all of our tenants and other stakeholders here at the airport and just ask them that very question you just asked me: what are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What could we do better? How can I help them be more successful than they already are. Obviously the issue that is out there the most is the number of flights and our air service issues that we are experiencing here at the airport.

I want to ask you about that because there has been a steady decline in the number of passengers every year since 2005, I think at this point. Do you have any plans to get more people to fly out of Manchester?

I mean, there are some things that we could we could possibly do differently. At the end of the day, it is an air carrier decision as to the level of service that they want to put into a market. But at the same time there are some things that we could do to make ourselves maybe a little more attractive to those carriers and those are some of the elements that I'll need to sit down and talk with the senior staff about after this listening tour, as I like to call it, is complete and we hear from the carriers and we hear from our tenants about what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong. I think there are some some things that we can do to help us feel more attractive and part of that is looking at our cost structure here at the airport.

But at the end of the day, of course, you need to get that passenger volume up, right?

Exactly and that is a decision that each consumer makes on a daily basis when a when they log on to an airline's website and they are looking at making a travel decision. We want them to think Manchester first. And that is something that at the end of the day is a personal decision. Now can we help influence that through marketing and advertising? Certainly we can. But I think if we if we focus on our cost structure and we work with our carriers on our relationships, then we might be able to help entice that carriers to provide some more product in here and some more choices - maybe some better fares that would help drive additional traffic to the airport.

When you talk about bringing costs down for carriers and in order to entice them to add more flights or even to bring them in the first place, what can you do specifically to bring those costs down?

Well I think there are some ways that we can look at our long-term debt. How is it structured. We're taking some steps here already to restructure some of our debt load, maybe looking at some of our contracted services that we have here at the airport. Now are we still getting the best business deal that we can get from some of our contract services. So I think, you know, it just takes a broad brush view of our entire cost structure.

Do you see Manchester as being quite competitive with other regional airports, you know, Portland, of course, Boston. I mean do you see it as being a viable alternative for passengers.

Sure. I think the value proposition that the airport provides for passengers is heads and shoulders above the competing airports in the region. Just our level of customer service here and how easy it is for a passenger to come to the airport and get through the security checkpoint with maybe a max ten minute wait time, get into some concessions that are not as overflowing and crowded as you would normally see at Logan or any other airport. I think it's certainly a high value proposition for passengers. Now are our costs and is our cost structure competitive with those airports? Not right now. We're about on par with those airports but I think there's some ways that we can make ourselves more attractive to carriers by lowering some of our costs as it relates to Boston and Providence.