Paul Bradbury has worked at the Portland International Jetport for nearly 23 years, the last seven as airport director. His background as a professional engineer served him well while overseeing a huge, $120 million expansion of the terminal and parking garage. With that done, Bradbury said he’s focusing on trying to attract an ultra-low-cost airline and possibly adding an international flight to the airport. The airport’s annual budget is $19.3 million and the airport has 55 employees, not counting those working at concessions.

Q: How do you deal with a snowy winter such as, perhaps, this one?

A: We have an exceptional snow crew, with veteran leadership, so they’re here from the first snowflake to 24 hours after the event. There’s a big focus on keeping those runways clear because if you lose it, it’s hard to get it back. We budget conservatively on winters. Right now we’re running right at the numbers for payroll and overtime: We’ve gone through 58 percent of our fiscal year as of the end of January and we have spent 62.4 percent of our budget, with the extra mainly due to snow removal and the chemicals we use for deicing. We had a lot of icing events in December. We prefer fluffy snow, but we got killed early in the season with icing events.

Q: The airport stays open all the time, so what is the impact of a lot of flight cancellations?

A: We’ve taken it on the nose. February’s a short month, so every day we have a cancellation, 3.6 percent (of the revenue stream) for the month is lost. You need to try to recover that, but unfortunately the trip is just entirely canceled. We had a tough time with the storm just before February vacation, because there were a lot of cancellations for that Sunday. It’s a loss at the end of the day and you’re dealing with those other expenses.

Q: As a city-owned facility, do you rely on property taxes for your budget?


A: We are considered an enterprise fund. It’s user-based and we have to compete in the marketplace for the business, so the only people who are paying are the people flying out of here. Only 31 percent of our revenue comes from our airline partners and 69 percent of our revenue comes from our concessions. Which is really impressive compared to other airports.

Q: How do you market the airport?

A: We’re trying to sell a product that we don’t control. If there was a big demand for a destination, I’d like to just go down in the basement and manufacture more seats. They don’t put another plane into service (when demand grows), they just charge more. We go to the airlines and say, “You’re under-serving this market,” and we also go to the market and say, “Hey, you can fly out of Portland,” so there’s a push-pull on how we market. We think we need an ultra-low-cost airline operating out of Portland, like Spirit Airlines or Allegiant, those kinds of operations. We want that same opportunity in the market out of Portland. They might run an Orlando nonstop for two months with a really low price point. There’s a fixed cost in running an airport, so there’s an advantage in having more passengers and then our pricing per-passenger goes down.

Q: What else is on the radar, so to speak?

A: We’re going to look for international markets for a nonstop out of Portland. You can run a 737 across the pond now and you couldn’t do that 10 years ago, so there’s an opportunity for a low-cost international service. If we can do more on low-cost domestic service and get the low-cost international service, there’s an opportunity there.

Q: What has been the major change at the jetport since you’ve been there?


A: A lot changed in the industry after 9/11. We used to have a lot of flights down to Boston, but now, anything less than a four-hour drive is not where you fly because of (the time involved in) security protocols. We had a security screening area that was nowhere in line with what we needed. We had lines backed up and the perception was terrible. We also had large, lobby-mounted explosives-detection devices and they were very inefficient. So the terminal expansion allowed us to put all that behind the scenes.

Q: What’s been the impact of the expansion project?

A: The project really exceeded expectations, from the wood on the ceiling to the baggage-handling system. There were kinks, but we have those worked out and now the next phase is making sure you keep the building looking like the day we opened. Things start to look worn and the ideal is to not let that happen. … One of the areas we know we have to work on is some form of a business lounge. We don’t have one right now. We haven’t put it in our capital program yet.

Q: How is such a costly project paid for?

A: The passenger facility charge is how we funded it, a $4.50 charge per passenger (that airports are allowed by the federal government to charge). If Portland didn’t charge that, airports downstream could. You’re still going to pay it, but it will be given to JFK or Newark, so why shouldn’t that economic impact accrue to Portland?

Q: How satisfied are you with the current level of service?


A: We connect to every international airport and we have exceptional services for an airport that serves roughly 519,000 people. Just incredible service for an MSA (metropolitan statistical area) that size. We have a ton of leisure traffic in the summer. We do twice as many passengers a month in July and August as we do in January.

Q: What about longer-term growth?

A: Our demographics are changing – we’re getting older and there’s another opportunity for us is to do better at offering the product to an aging population. We need to offer a better level of service and that can be value-added. We already have a short walking distance and you compare that to Logan, it puts us in a good position for that demographic change.


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