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John Anderson

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The Boise Airport, which hit a new record of 3 million passengers in 2005, has had its share of bumps this year, including the cancellation of Continental Airlines service, a low ranking by JD Power and Associates and the Idaho Supreme Court's halt of the construction of a new parking garage. There've been ups, too: After fighting a Federal Aviation Administration plan to move BOI's Terminal Radar Approach Control, the airport snared a deal to speed up construction of a new control tower, which will allow for the opening of a third runway. John Anderson, the airport's director, tells BW why he questions the validity of the JD Power survey, how the airport still needs more parking and why they might go to the Legislature for help.

BW: Obviously the new tower agreement is a plus. What's one of the big benefits?

JA: It will allow cargo to get in and out almost all of the time, which means Micron can continue to work all of the time. And that is important to our economy. As for the control tower, that opens up a large tract of land in our third runway area, to add well over a thousand acres of developable land for aviation businesses.

Let's take a look at the number of employees working on the airport campus, if you will. We're probably about the fourth largest employer in Boise. We're over 4,000 employees located on airport property, with a quarter of a billion dollars in annual payroll. Opening up more land means that that land, and that payroll, can significantly increase over time. Those are both big deals.

When you think about that aspect of your business, the news about Continental Airlines canceling one Boise flight doesn't seem like such a big deal.

I think that it's important to understand that that is one small thing. Ever since deregulation in the late 1970s, airlines have come and gone, not only from Boise but from every airport in the country. Continental, this is the third time they've been here. They didn't go bankrupt this time. The last two times they went bankrupt. They weren't making the highest profit they wanted to here, so they picked up and left. That's fine.

How about the survey from JD Power that came out in June, giving BOI one of the nation's worst customer satisfaction rankings among small airports?

I can't tell you the number of people who have called or stopped in and they're going, "What is wrong with those people?" [JD Power] really struggled to find something they don't like. We found a couple of things curious about what we have been able to get from JD Power. One was, 80 percent of the people were upset because we didn't have good enough wheelchair services. We're probably as good as anybody on that. That's fine.

Another thing they told us was, the average wait at security was 22 minutes. Well, we have not had long security lines for well over a year. In fact, the no-baloney wait time is usually less than three minutes. We've asked JD Power, "Could you at least give us the questions so we could figure out what was the deal?" They said, "Nope." We have to pay them $25,000 to get anything more than they've given us.

You know, at the carnival, you could pay your money to get in and see the bearded lady. It's sort of like they've given us a little peep, now step right up, pay your money and we promise we'll do something really neat.

I have heard from other people in the car industry and others that if you don't pay to play with them, you don't get a decent ranking. Those are just rumors I hear.

But at the same time, the name JD Power does carry a bit of weight. It's a report that could get quoted a lot.

We're not doing nothing about this. We are going to make a recommendation to our Airport Commission to use Airport Council International to do a survey for $5,000, not $25,000. In that, they give us the questions up front so we know what it is. That's what bugs me about the JD Power, they won't even tell you what the questions are.

We will get not only the answers, but they will do a good sampling and survey, and we'll get peer comparisons with other airports. It will give us some good comparison ratings and we can look at real airport issues, not whatever-it-is issues they're looking at.

How are things going with the airport garage? I hear employees are now parking somewhere else to make more space?

We're trying to create more space that the public can use. That will help a little bit.

Essentially we need to be able to borrow money in order to build a garage. We have a committee working on that to figure out how to proceed. Hopefully we'll have recommendations to City Council in September.

It seems like the two-thirds majority you need to get for a successful bond election is your sticking point.

Boise Airport is becoming a contender to be a big economic force. Airports nationwide that are our size have access to the capital markets to borrow money. To be a 21st century airport we need to have access to the capital market. Our debt has no lien on property taxes, no way that taxpayers can be expected to repay the debt if we default. In fact, we insure our debt. It's the insurance companies that would be responsible. Essentially, it's a very low-risk thing for them to do.

But you're limited in your ability to go after that.

At this time, probably the only way we can do it is to have a bond election. And right now, that's a little tough. How do you say to Joe Taxpayer, this is a revenue bond which only uses project proceeds to pay the debt, and there's no risk to taxpayers at all. It's a big education process ahead of time.

Another issue: Let's say we were going to do this in the general election in November. Well, you're competing against a lot of big media events. To get attention, and to get the media to focus on our issue, is hard for us. Then the other issue is, we can educate the public about the bond issue, but we can't advocate for them to vote one way or another. You can say all those things I just said to you, but you can't say, "Vote yes." So we'd probably need to raise a fair amount of money. But it can't be the airport raising it.

Is there a plan to seek legislative solution in the interim?

We're researching that also. There may be a legislative alternative out there. Some would not be very attractive to the city, because they would essentially mean the city would not have control over the airport. That's probably not going to happen. We're just going to honestly evaluate it, and see where we go.

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