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JAA's new CEO talks spaceport, international flights, government shutdown
Jan 18, 2019
By Will Robinson – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal
Newly named CEO Mark VanLoh addresses JAA's board for the first time.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority's new CEO, Mark VanLoh, has big shoes to fill. VanLoh, hired in November, succeeds Steve Grossman, who finished a nine-year tenure at JAA with the highest passenger count in more than a decade, the highest revenue in the authority's 50-year history and new routes announced by four airlines.
VanLoh came to JAA from the Tulsa Airports Authority, where he was CEO, and is the former director of aviation for Kansas City, Missouri, and former president of the Chattanooga Airport Authority in Tennessee. He was selected to be CEO of JAA from a pool of 73 candidates.
VanLoh sat down with the Business Journal on Friday to discuss his vision for his new role.
What attracted you to this position?
It’s a relatively small industry. There’s only about 400 airports in the United States that have commercial service, and this is one of the top-run airports in the country. I’ve known that for a long time, and I’ve been watching and watching. When the opportunity came open, I jumped.
This the ultimate. You’ve got something for everybody that loves aviation. We’ve got the spaceport, we’ve got general aviation for the barnstormers on the weekends, we’ve got a corporate airport for the private jet guys and then we’ve got this monster up here [Jacksonville International Airport]. It’s got everything. And of course the location doesn’t hurt either.
What are some challenges unique to running JAA?
It takes everything you’ve ever learned in your career. That’s why I feel like I’ve sort of been waiting this long to accumulate all the skills I have because it’s a different mindset at each airport.
You’ve got the people at Herlong [Recreational Airport] who rent space from you and buy gas, and they just want to be left alone; just let me fly… Then the other extreme, you’ve got the airport up here where we’re very security-oriented, everybody’s got a badge and it’s serious business… Then you’ve got the spaceport, which is up and coming, and I think is going to be tremendous over the next few years.
JAA is in the process of developing a masterplan for the next several years. What are things you are hoping or expecting to see come from that?
We’re pretty sure it’s going to tell us, “You better get started on Concourse B.” We’re running low on gate space, especially in the mornings. All the airlines love to park here overnight, and we like them to because that means we get an early morning flight for the business traveler...
We’ve got growth happening as we speak. Frontier just announced Raleigh-Durham last week. Spirit Airlines started last month. Things are happening, and you can’t wait till you’re out of space and then decide to build gates because that takes years.
We’ve got to start now, and I think this masterplan is going to tell us, “Get busy.” If an airline can’t find a gate here, they’re going to go somewhere else. We don’t want them to go to Tampa or Orlando, they need to be here.
You're starting at a unique time with the partial government shutdown. What are things you're monitoring or having to work around logistically?
The thing the public sees is the controllers and the screening employees and the TSA because that affects them. What they don’t see are the places where we get our federal funding and our grant applications and everything we have to send to Washington to get approved, that’s not happening. Nothing is happening.
The best we can hope for is to keep the employees happy, coming to work and doing their jobs. So far, we haven’t seen a blip at all. Now as this continues, of course we get more worried. But for right now, they’re dedicated, they’re coming in and we have no security lines.
If you were looking back on your tenure at JAA, what do you want to have achieved?
I want to be able to attract the service that our customers want. We’ve got some targets out there. We know we need better West Coast service. We would like to see some international service to Europe with the new aircraft that could do it now without a stop.
I’d like to be able to say we got the service that Jacksonville deserved and that business travelers wanted. I want to leave the place in a better position financially than I found it, which will be tough to do because we’re in great shape.
And then I’d like to see growth in the spaceport industry. I’d like to see Cecil realize it’s full potential because that is an unpainted canvas right now. There’s so much land out there ready for development, and you’re starting to see it with Amazon and all the other facilities out there.
I’d like to see our general aviation guys happy and able to get in their plane and fly whenever, where ever they want to and not be harassed by too many government regulations. I’d like to keep all facets of aviation happy.
Jacksonville International Airport preparing for The Club JAX
DEC. 28, 2018
Karen Brune Mathis, Editor
Jax Daily Record
ravelers through Jacksonville International Airport soon can access a new club — The Club JAX.
Club JAX is designed with zones labeled relax, replenish, productivity and kids, along with a concierge and a bar. It will be between the food court and service pet relief area after travelers clear security.
Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokeswoman Debbie Jones said the lounge should open in the spring and will be available to all departing passengers, regardless of airline, through either a $40 day pass bought online or at the club or with a Priority Pass membership that comes with several travel credit cards.
In addition to Priority Pass, The Club JAX can be accessed by members of LoungeKey, Diners Club International and the AAA member discount program.
JAA Senior Properties Administrator Jeff Taylor said Friday the airport lounge offers a complimentary hot and cold buffet that features a seasonal menu rotation that showcases the flavors of Jacksonville.
The lounge also offers premium wines, local craft beers, premium spirits and cocktails, all of which are complimentary with guest access to those over 21 years old, he said.
The city is reviewing a permit for Auld & White Constructors LLC to build-out the 3,625-square-foot space that will become a premium lounge for travelers in addition to storage and pantry space.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority previously announced that Airport Lounge Development Corp., based in Plano, Texas, will invest at least $1 million to develop, manage and operate the 2,726-square-foot facility that will have seating for 49 guests.
The authority said The Club JAX will offer a hot and cold buffet featuring menus from Jacksonville chefs and seating for relaxation, privacy, productivity and dining.
It said the club will provide two restrooms, including showers, and a children’s play area with age-appropriate video games, TV and books.
The authority said Airport Lounge Development is the largest U.S. independent shared-use lounge developer with a network of 18 airport lounges among 13 airports worldwide. It is part of The Collinson Group, a privately held travel services company based in the U.K.
The Collinson Group’s services include travel insurance, travel clubs and loyalty programs. It says it spans 24 international offices and 21 brands, including Priority Pass.
In October, Airport Lounge Development announced the opening of a new lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
The Club DFW is open from 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily and serves all passengers who have cleared TSA access in any terminal.
As in Jacksonville, guests there can buy a day pass for $40. It serves the same membership categories.
It described that club’s five zones as:
• A Privacy Zone, where guests can conduct private conference calls or Skype friends or family in the privacy room or in one of ALD’s privacy chairs. “Cocoon” chairs are provided for those who want to read or make a quiet phone call.
• A Replenish Zone that features comfortable seating and a menu that includes a hot and cold buffet and all-day snack items. There is a fully stocked and tended bar.
• A Productivity Zone with a desk-height counter with electrical outlets, as well as ergonomic chairs for business travelers seeking a workspace. Guests can use the available computer and printer or use their own computers.
• A Relax Zone with seating that enables guests to catch up on the news or socialize with fellow travelers.
• A Refresh Zone that includes a restroom, private shower facility and spa-quality soaps and lotions.
Comfort dog brings peace to Christmas Day travelers in Jacksonville
December 25, 2018
First Coast News
Folks at Jacksonville International Airport got a bit of relief from the travel stress Christmas Day with a comfort dog on-hand to put their minds at ease before their flight.
It’s part of a program that the airport started just a few months ago with holiday travelers in mind.
Roaming the courtyard and concourse of the airport, Debbie Zahler and her pup Mookie bring comfort and joy this Christmas.
“Traveling is stressful for some folks, or the end point of their travel might be a stressful experience, so it’s nice to be able to bring something back to other folks,” Zahler said.
She’s been with Mookie since he was 9-weeks-old. The Border Collie is now pushing 13 years old with his graying whiskers. Once a competitor in agility events, Mookie is soaking-up retirement by keeping travelers calm.
The duo visits the airport for a few hours once or twice a month. Strolling along – giving help when and where they can.
“Sometimes you can see that some people are not interested in playing with the dog, some folks, as you saw, are involved on their phone or just not pet people, which is fine. Sometimes you see a sort of smile come to their face especially when we’re out in the concourse,” Zahler said.
About a dozen dogs and handlers are part of the Jax Paws program, which launched over the summer -- a concept seen at airports across the country.
The training is extensive not only for her furry friend but Zahler as well. Their outfit – special too.
“Identification for the dogs, you see Mookie’s got a vest and I’ve got a vest. They’re always visible,” Zahler said.
She added the pair still gets to enjoy the holiday, but to her, Christmas is a time to give back.
“I have traveled on business significantly over my career and I know what that’s like, and it’s really nice to have an animal to love on and pet and that sort of stuff,” Zahler said.
Making the holiday a bit less hectic.
Frontier Airlines Adds New Flight from JAX
January 8, 2019
Frontier Airlines is adding another non-stop destination from Jacksonville International Airport (JAX).
Beginning April 30, Frontier will operate three weekly flights to Raleigh-Durham (RDU), North Carolina, on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, using an A320 aircraft.
The airline currently offers non-stop service to Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Trenton.
To book your flight, visit www.flyfrontier.com.