Renato Camacho works to make Akron-Canton Airport soar

 

Airline consolidation over the years has limited the opportunities for airports such as Akron-Canton to acquire air service. Some carriers will only service certain markets, while others won’t go where they’re pitted against a direct competitor and are likely to get locked into race-to-the-bottom pricing.

Considering the heightened level of competition, capital improvements have become an increasingly important factor for airports in attracting carriers.

“You need a state of good repair,” he says. “You need runways and taxiways and lights, and chillers and boilers that are going to work for our mutual passengers. That helps make the case.”

Hence the gate replacement project that’s winding down at Akron-Canton, which Camacho says is a perfect example of that positioning. It’s part of the airport’s $240 million master plan of capital investments and improvements, launched before Camacho took on his current role. The gates are expected to position the airport for future opportunities for air service and partnerships with air carriers, but that’s only part of the pitch.

Making the case

Understanding the travel habits of the community informs Akron-Canton’s pitch to carriers, for which the size of their aircraft and the destinations they want to fly to should ideally match traveler data the airport collects. Through a dialogue with area businesses, Camacho is able to gather data that build the case to carriers for additional services that match the community’s needs.

Collecting that data has Camacho and others at the airport getting involved with local chambers of commerce, development boards, visitors bureaus and other business-oriented organizations, as well as talking directly to area businesses — and not just the weighty voices of the area Fortune 500s, but also those of mid-market and small companies that do a lot of traveling.

“The airlines love to see data that are black and white. They don’t like to see that a company might fly here, a company may fly there,” he says.

Camacho and outgoing CEO Rick McQueen toured the communities surrounding the airport. He held 50 to 60 meetings in a three-month window with companies and organizations to gain their perspectives and a sense of their needs, while at the same time getting the message out about the airport’s key initiatives and efforts.

“It’s not my airport. It’s the community’s airport,” Camacho says.

Through conversations with companies, it has become clear to Camacho that the last thing business travelers want to do after a long and taxing trip is to drive an hour and a half home. And that’s helped focus the airport’s efforts on creating connections, one of which has brought flights from the airport to Houston that Camacho says have been very popular with the business community.

“That’s why we keep asking them for their travel habits and sharing that information with the airlines, and that’s what got us (the) Houston service. We continue to have those types of discussions with them about potential destinations,” he says.