Huntsville Airport Authority Defends Incentive Plan to Airline Representatives

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Members of the Huntsville Airport Authority met face to face Tuesday morning with representatives of several airlines to defend the airport’s incentive program to discourage people from going out of town to fly.

It was the Board of Directors’ first regular meeting of 2014.

Huntsville Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker argued the incentive program, started in June 2013, is voluntary and has already resulted in all kinds of improvements for travelers, including a 27 percent reduction in baggage delivery times.

Airline representatives challenge the resolution that sets up the incentive program, claiming it violates federal airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

During the public comment time, company officials from SAIC and Adtran spoke to complain about the high ticket prices and lack of concern shown by the airlines.

“Customer service is not their priority any more,” Russ Johnson of SAIC told the Airport Authority Board, referring to an airline that he says lost his luggage and scoffed at the idea of refunding the $25 charge for checking it.

Gary Bolton of Adtran said he felt the number one challenge to economic development in Huntsville is the high airfares.

“The high costs not only affect our bottom line, but our efficiency… because our employees are forced to go to Nashville and Birmingham,” said Bolton.

After public comment, a representative with Airlines of America, which represents all of the airlines, said Huntsville has a geography problem. Rob Delucia told the Huntsville Airport Authority Board airlines are ‘getting clobbered’ by competition from buses offering very cheap rates. He also cited the fluctuating fuel prices and federal requirements of the TSA and said the industry has never recovered from September 11, 2001. Delucia claimed the airlines lost $62 billion between 2001 and 2010.

“We would like to avoid litigation. We know your intentions are good, but we have to look at what other airports are doing down the road,” Delucia said.

Representatives for the airlines questioned whether the improvements since June are linked to the incentive program and suggested the efficiency in baggage claim was due to internal changes by the individual airlines.

Representatives of airlines have suggested they would sue the Huntsville International Airport to stop the incentive program.

One airline representative suggested airport authority board members approach members of Congress to get the Deregulation Act of 1978 changed to regulate the air carriers.

Several members of the Airport Authority grilled airline representatives for other ideas to replace or modify the incentive plan.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Tucker said both sides agree that the resolution from June 2013 needs modifications. Members voted to allow the airlines to continue to receive the benefits from the resolution until March 1st with no strings attached. Within the 45 days, both sides will meet at three different airports to try to work out differences and modifications needed.

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