‘The world’s gateway to us’
Leading the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport into its next era by Tim Thornton imothy Bradshaw grew up in Roanoke County, graduated from William Byrd High School and moved away to join the Coast Guard. “I did search and rescue with the U.S. Coast Guard, flew around Alaska and different places,” Bradshaw says. “I thought I wanted to fly for a living, but times were tough back then and I really saw that my career was more in airport management, so I’ve been chasing that career for many years.” He chased that career through Teterboro, N.J.; Louisville, Owensboro and Bowling Green, Ky.; to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was airport director of the Eastern Iowa Airport before coming to Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. “It was a chance to come back home after all these years,”
Roanoke Business: Many people think it’s cheaper and simpler to drive to Charlotte or Greensboro and fly out of there instead of Roanoke. How close is that to being true and, to the extent it is true, what are you going to do to fix it? Bradshaw: I haven’t looked at the data yet, but I would probably find that it’s true because those airports have greater competition. That’s what we’re lacking here, competing airlines. When I got in this business 30 some years ago, there were a lot more airlines. Now were down to three: American, which just gobbled up USAir; Delta and United. So that consolidation has left us with not too many choices. They’ve got a hold on the domestic market now. The only way you can get fares to come down reasonably is to bring in a low-cost carrier. People always say, what about Southwest? Well, Southwest is wonderful. But you have to fill up a 737 eight times a day to make their business model work, and we just do not have the population base to support that. So those communities enjoy the benefits of having much more competition, and that’s what makes the difference in our Photo by Sam Dean
Bradshaw says. “And also I saw an opportunity here where I could use the skills that I’ve been able to develop over the years in developing air service and developing airports and try to lead the airport into its next era.” Bradshaw, 56, follows Jacqueline Shuck, who was the airport’s executive director for 25 years. “Airports are the economic engine of the region. It’s the pulse of the local economy, too. When the airport is doing well, it’s usually an indication of how the region’s doing,” Bradshaw says. “We don’t just serve Roanoke. We serve the region. I like to think of us as a catalyst for regionalism.” Roanoke Business visited Bradshaw in his office at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport terminal.
markets ... We’re going to do a leakage study this year to see where people are driving to, look at some fare comparisons to see what people are paying in these other areas … Once we’re armed with that data, then we can start to target and attack those areas that we can try to fix … So our goal is to try to bring in additional competition … We’re not going to see things change overnight, but I think over the next 18 months or so, we’ll start to get a better handle on the situation, start focusing our efforts on where we need to go and hopefully we’ll start seeing some results. RB:You’ve described this as a business-flying community. How much of the traffic out of here is business and how much is leisure? Bradshaw: It’s about 60-40. That sounds almost even, but you’ve got to remember Allegiant. Allegiant flies a larger airplane out of here two days a week … That tends to drive up the leisure quite a bit. The thing I remind people, too, is we always think of where we’re flying and where we’re going to, but [we also need to] think about peo-
ple coming here … This is the gateway to the world, but it’s also the world’s gateway to us. We have to think about all those people trying to do business with us. I’ve had discussions with Virginia Tech, and they’re disappointed sometimes in the service and trying to get people in and out of here. They’re a world-renowned research center. It’s important for them to have access to the global transportation system. It’s not only important for us going somewhere, but for people getting to us. RB:You mentioned Virginia Tech; who else needs a vibrant airport? Bradshaw: Carilion, for example. Advance. Meridium. Some of the other larger employers … The employers that have 10 to15 employees who may have an industry where they do a lot of travel, it’s very important to them, too. We don’t want them moving to Dulles or Charlotte to have better transportation options. RB: How much of the use of the airport is corporate as opposed to commercial? Bradshaw: It’s about 40 percent of our traffic … It’s one of my favorite ROANOKE BUSINESS