Southwest management visits SJ Airport

July 23, 2008 5:49:45 PM PDT
At a time when the airline industry is struggling with bankruptcies and skyrocketing fuel costs, one local airport is in the middle of a major renovation. An important visit on Wednesday calmed some economically frayed nerves at the airport in San Jose.

Mineta San Jose International has 13 carriers, but Southwest accounts for 45 percent of the airport's flight activity. That makes Bob Montgomery a VIP. Montgomery started as a baggage handler with Southwest 31 years ago. He's now the airline's vice president of properties.

He toured San Jose's new north concourse under construction and says the airline backs the investment.

"We're in fact growing, three to four percent this year. Next year, we're just waiting to see where the fuel prices go, but we know we will not shrink. We intend to grow," says Montgomery, the Southwest Airlines Vice President.

It's perhaps a lucky coincidence that the health of Southwest is so closely tied to the financial well being of San Jose International, but the success of the airports modernization is also grounded in a difficult decision.

When construction started in 2004, the plans called for a grand $4.5 billion project. Even then, the airlines weren't ready to absorb those costs and the scope was quickly scaled back. The budget is now $1.3 billion and that turning point three years ago is proving critical today.

"I think rescaling the project really did a lot in terms of keeping this airport competitive in the airline and airport community," said Bill Sherry, Aviation Director at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

San Jose has seen a drop in passengers from 14 million in 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom, to 10.7 million last year and a projected 10.3 million this year. They are lighter loads that reflect the economic downturn.

"The only reason why I traveled to see my sister in Denver, is because I got the stimulus check," said Lois Madris, a passenger.

Montgomery says the best stimulus check for the airlines would be lower fuel costs.

Without that, there's a concern Southwest won't have a lot of company when the north concourse opens in 2010.


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