Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Quick Getaway

Wow, that was a loooong article by David Battagello on the airport in the Star today.

Do you know what's funny about it? It's length.

It's the length of a story one would have expected to run on a Saturday when people had time to read it. It would not have run last Saturday because that was a holiday weekend but it should have run the weekend before, on the 15th if it was finished by then. Oooops, that was out because it would have been right before the Mayor's State of the City speech. That would have been a real embarrassment for him and he would have had to have amended his speech to deal with the subject.

Perhaps Eddie anticipated all of this and that is the reason why the Long Distance Commuting program played such a big role in the Jobs Today program and is so important to him and to the airport.

I just can't hide this feeling I get that City owned businesses are being run into the ground. Exactly what the reason is, I wish I knew. If only Eddie had undertaken the audits he promised when he first became Mayor, we might be smarter today. However, a whitewash audit on WUC, a "dead men pumping gas concern" audit on Fleet Operations and a delayed one on 400 City Hall Square are our legacy it seems. I wonder when we are having one on the East End Arena costs or on the Tunnel.

What will the result be... the businesses will have to be be given away or sold out from under us, or perhaps leased in a P3 deal. We saw that with the Cleary. We can almost predict it with the Capitol. You know what I think has to happen with the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. And you have seen my speculation with respect to Windsor Utilities Commission and Enwin. Should I add the Airport to my list? After all, how much more money can taxpayers be expected to sink into seemingly losing propositions.

Remember the story about Air America Logistics and its general manager Vicky Kyriaco-Wilson:
  • "Air America has also been instrumental in spinoff work at the airport -- for fuel sales, ground handling equipment, local trucking services and maintenance work.

    More than 800 aircraft movements associated with Air America occurred last year involving DC-8 jets, Boeing 727s, Boeing 737s, DC-9s and numerous other small jets.

    The company handled more than 5.4 million pounds of freight last year.

    "We're the lynchpin that keeps the cargo aspect humming over here," Kyriaco-Wilson said."

Perhaps airport general manager Federica Nazzani might want to pick up the phone and give her a call. I am sure that she has probably done so. However, Federica's response concerning her lack of experience in the airline business was rather smarmy

  • "She dismissed criticism of her lack of aviation experience: "It's true I don't have that experience. But I would point to the prior manager (Serco) who did -- and that didn't work out very well."

So far, I have not seen that her results are any better than that of a Serco. A Mexicana charter flight and dealing with a couple of Germans in a startup operation are not a record of achievement.

It is very troubling when:

  • "WestJet Airlines, which pulled out of Windsor a couple of years ago, has no plans to return in the next year or two,
  • no new development plans have been unveiled, passenger flights are limited and charter services to sunny destinations remain non-existent
  • A city proposal to create a multi-modal hub in which air, rail and road freight could be exchanged has been put on the backburner. CP Railway officials say there is no need for it in Windsor because the rail company has a 770-acre freight hub in Vaughn, near Toronto."

I see that she learned a very well when she travelled with Eddie to Germany. Our Mayor "dismisses" things that he doesn't like and now so does his airport general manager. I have a slightly different perspective: if one of the world's leading aviation operators cannot make money out of Windsor, then how do we expect amateurs to do so.

I'm not going to get into the money part of what was discussed in the Star article other than to remind people that the reason that the airport was making a so called profit was because it wasn't replacing certain people and therefore not paying out their salaries as an expense. I wondered why the City was contributing $27,000 every month to the airport if in fact it was making a "profit." Now we know why.

I expect that all the airlines were very interested in meeting with her as a new general manager especially when they found out that she was inexperienced. Was it WestJet that asked her how much the City would be prepared to help them out if they decided to come back to Windsor? Obviously, the City could not offer much if they are not thinking of coming back here for several years.

Part of the problem is the THINK BIG mentality that we have in this City. We can hardly compete against Detroit Metro Airport and will hardly be able to to compete against Detroit Aerotropolis if they ever complete that. Why not take a different approach and THINK SMALL and try to look at where Windsor Airport can fit in.

I wonder if Ms. Nazzani has been advised by the same people who advised DRIC on traffic counts since her

  • "goal is to get passenger numbers up to 400,000 annually within 10 years. They peaked at 250,000 in the late 1990s and now stand at 130,000."

Doing some simple math, she would need to increase the traffic by about 270,000 people to reach her goal. If we divide that number by 52, the number of weeks in a year, then she needs another 5200 passengers per week to reach her target. I guess that means that Eddie needs to send 2600 people out West to take new jobs and return each weekend.

Another thought. I wonder if the Airport General Manager might need some training on good customer relations. I would suspect that the tenants and their leases are one of the biggest sources of revenues at the airport so she should be hugging them and holding them close for all of the money that they're bringing in. And yet she could make this statement:

  • "Nazzani said her door is open to any tenant who wants to discuss the airport's future and hinted she may consider gathering them together.

    "The onus is on them to come to me."

Given the fact that it is the City that is putting in all of this money, I would think that the onus is on her to go to them since she is so inexperienced. They probably understand a lot more than she does about how airports work. I wonder if I should give her Vicky's phone number since it is troubling to read in the Star story:

  • "They say their advice is being ignored."

One final thought. Do you really think that Eddie really cares very much about the airport? I don't think so. He's more interested in the land around the airport and what he can do with it. Here is what I wrote before:

  • "The City was pleased to get out of the Serco deal since

    “another major component of the termination agreement sees the City regain control from Serco of land development of more than 1,000 acres on the airport's grounds.

    "we've cleaned up that aspect where the land will now be in the direct control of the City," Francis said.

    The new CEO of the Windsor Essex County Development Commission last week told City council the City does not have adequate parcels of industrial land that are "shovel ready ... Serviced and zoned and ready to go" in order to lure new companies to the region. "

    That is what this deal is all about…..lands and who controls them.

    I want to remind you what the Mayor said to Gord Henderson right after the election:

    "Francis wouldn't tip his hand on plans for Windsor airport, which has been bleeding red ink under a contract with a private operator, but said the airport, and especially the airport lands, will be a top priority. "i don't think we've used it as a primary driver in economic development but we will," he vowed."

Remember the RFP on the airport? As I wrote before about the failed RFP for the airport:

  • "The whole airport RFP scheme had many fatal flaws in it as are identified in the report on pages 8 and 9. The key concern obviously was the exclusion of the airport lands. That's why Serco, the former operator, really was involved. That's where the real money would be made."
While Ms. Nazzani runs the airport, she was also involved with Prime Rose Inc. and she may still be for all I know. In case you wonder, that Company's services are:

  • "Real Estate-Land Subdividers and Developers"
That Company was one of the candidates for the Chamber's Business Excellence Awards recently.

Is that why she was really retained to be involved with the Airport...the land side and not the aviation side?

I wonder if the City is required to have a running airport if it wishes to keep all of the land that it received from the Federal Government when the City took over the running of the airport. Otherwise, it would be a huge gift to cities around the country who took over airports and would probably get the Feds in all kinds of trouble.

If I am right, then expect to hear more horror stories about the airport and more THINK BIG DREAMS about it.

Just know, it has nothing to do with the airport... it has all to do with creating "shovel ready" lands at the airport, at taxpayer expense of course, to be flogged off to Developers.

In case you have forgotten, and it's one of the reason I spoke at City Council in opposition to the creation of an Airport and a Tunnel Private Company, the Mayor is effectively in charge of the operation since there is no check on his power because the other directors are his subordinates:

  • "Mayor Francis is CEO of the corporation, called Your Quick Gateway. Also on the board are city CAO John Skorobohacz, treasurer Onorio Colucci and public works general manager Dev Tyagi.

    Last fall, city council directed that a new board be appointed to replace the mayor and administrators, one filled with expertise in the business.

    "I know everybody is busy, but I was hoping the new model being developed would happen sooner than later," said Coun. Alan Halberstadt. "You need people knowledgeable about airports to direct the new manager."

    Francis said the wheels are in motion to get a new board in place, hopefully in the summer."