Up in the air
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks with Bangor International Air’s (BGR) new director, Tony Caruso, about the aviation industry and Bangor’s future as a regional air hub
Maine Trails: You worked as BIA’s assistant director for 10 years before you took on the role as interim director. What was your role as A.D. and how was that different from your new job as director?
Tony Caruso: As the assistant director, I was directly responsible for the airport’s service division of our fixed base operation (FBO). This included the divisions directly responsible for fueling, ground handling aircraft, passenger services, aircraft maintenance, ground support and airline services. I assisted with leases and contract management and spearheaded special projects. I also served as the director in her absence. As the director, I can be more involved with many of the other divisions and major projects here at BGR.
Maine Trails: What other airport management experience do you have?
Tony Caruso: Most of my experience is directly related to my service here at BGR. I started my career at BGR in 1996, and I have worked in several different capacities that have provided me with a great knowledge and understanding of our airport. I have also had the opportunity to work under two good directors: Bob Ziegelaar and Rebecca Hupp. I have worked on a few projects with Peter D’Errico. All of these people have successfully managed BGR and each has provided me with valuable experience and exposure. I also spent some time managing a small general aviation airfield in Tucson, Arizona, before returning to BGR as the assistant director.
Maine Trails: What were the biggest changes that you saw at the airport during those 10 years?
Tony Caruso: In the early part of the past 10 years, the difficulty was dealing with the constant regulatory compliance issues and unfunded mandates placed on airports. Most of these were directly related to security issues. During the latter part of the past 10 years, the concern has been dealing with the volatile fuel market and domestic airlines reducing their capacities. This continues to be a true concern for us today.
Maine Trails: How would you characterize the biggest trends in air travel during the past 10 years?
Tony Caruso: The most recent changes involve the airlines charging fees for ancillary services, such as for food, carry-on bags, and seat assignments. This presents a real change in customer spending habits. However, the airlines report that these fees help to support their financial health.
Maine Trails: Are passenger expectations different than they were 10 years ago?
Tony Caruso: Passengers have always looked for value and quality when purchasing and using air service. This continues, but today their expectations are certainly greater. We are seeing growth in areas that are related to passenger amenities. While some of these amenities may come at a direct cost to passengers, they do present real added value. This includes increased legroom and satellite TV on flights and even providing flight updates directly to passengers’ smart phones. All offer an added value and increase the quality of the service or product to the customer.
Maine Trails: How have carriers changed in that time?
Tony Caruso: Air carriers have changed the way they do business and they will continue to evolve. Market share was one of the major goals with air carriers but today the focus is more on yield management and improving their flows throughout their system. Air carriers also will continue to look for opportunities to develop alliances to maximize their reach and improve their efficiencies.
Maine Trails: Is the job of manager different than it was 10 years ago?
Tony Caruso: Many years ago, the job of an airport manager was more of a facility manager. Today, a manager must be the facility manager but also the business manager. Airport managers must have a long-term vision and be very strategic in their planning efforts. Focus must be placed on ensuring the future viability of their airport. The airport manager today is involved with economic development, lease management, identifying revenue sources and real long-term growth initiatives.
Maine Trails: Fort Lauderdale is one of BIA’s top 10 destinations, as is Washington, D.C. What are some of the others? Why are these particularly good markets for Bangor flyers?
Tony Caruso: Bangor has a good mix of leisure and business travelers. Many of the top leisure destinations are in the Florida market, as well as in southwestern U.S. Many of our business travelers can travel to major markets with simply one connection or stop. Direct access to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Detroit have proven to be very popular. Several years ago, we marketed BGR as having good “connectivity.” This continues today. However, the real point to make is having access to other areas and this includes internationally.
Maine Trails: Do you see any other markets emerging?
Tony Caruso: Bangor continues to work with the existing air carriers serving our market to look for opportunities to upgrade equipment [aircraft], flight frequency or service to other destinations. We also continuously market to air carriers not currently serving our market on providing service to other destinations we have identified as being a need. Chicago and Charlotte are two examples of markets that will enhance access for BGR customers.
Maine Trails: Can you talk about BIA’s strategic plan going forward?
Tony Caruso: Generally Bangor has a strategic plan that involves strengthening our business niches, including our traditional revenue sources such as parking and concessionaires. We also look for opportunities to invest in our facility and infrastructure to prepare for future opportunities. Another part of our strategic plan is investing in our personnel. All of our strategic efforts will help better position BGR for the future.
Maine Trails: How would you characterize BGR’s relations with the city? With MaineDOT and FAA?
Tony Caruso: Bangor International Airport has an excellent relationship with the City of Bangor. We have very collaborative working relationships with key city personnel and work very closely with them on a number of projects. The same is true for our relationship with other government agencies. We have great working relationships with all involved!
Maine Trails: BGR’s passenger count has been growing recently. Why is that?
Tony Caruso: Passenger numbers have been increasing over the last few months, as compared to last year’s figures. However, some of these figures are still below the numbers from 2005, when we experienced very strong passenger demand. The recent figures are certainly very pleasing, but we remain “cautiously optimistic” as the fuel market remains unstable and air carriers are still reducing capacity throughout their systems. Recent figures show there is good demand in our market.
Maine Trails: Is there room for more growth at BGR? Where will that growth come from? Demographically? Geographically? Is there a point where you think it will top out?
Tony Caruso: Bangor is always looking for opportunities for development and growth. We continue to focus on improving our business niches to make sure we are positioned for future success.
Maine Trails: Do you have your own plane?
Tony Caruso: No, but I am a licensed private pilot and have been since 1986. I have always had a passion for flying and aviation. This is such a dynamic industry and provides many of us with opportunities to be involved with aspects or projects other industries would never provide.
Maine Trails: What’s it like to be in charge of an airport?
Tony Caruso: While I am still very new to this current position, being in charge of an airport is exciting. As a director of an airport you have an opportunity to be involved with items or development that have a direct impact on your city or region. Being able to work with the very talented, skilled and professional people here at BGR, the city and the region is an honor.
Maine Trails: How are discussions going on adding parking capacity?
Tony Caruso: Discussions are moving forward with developing an option to handle the peak demand for parking we experience between February and April. This is certainly a good problem to have, but we need to provide adequate parking for our customers during this period. BGR is developing a satellite parking lot option that will provide shuttle service to and from the terminal. This service will provide “door-to-door” service for our customers – service directly from their vehicle to the terminal.
Maine Trails: Are there other major infrastructure investments on the horizon for the airport?
Tony Caruso: BGR is currently undertaking a terminal upgrade project that will enhance the customer flow within the domestic terminal. This includes combining all airline operations to a central area, developing more passenger queuing space, upgrading lighting and the escalator and possibly a better positioned elevator. We are also working with TSA on developing an inline checked baggage system. This system will combine TSA resources to the airline area versus the current system that has separate and divided systems. This will improve efficiencies for both the TSA and airline operations.
Maine Trails: What do your kids think about your job?
Tony Caruso: I am the very proud dad of five-year-old twins. Vincent and Amelia tell all their friends that their father works at the airport and gets to see airplanes all day!