Now that Lambert-St. Louis International Airport has finished its major physical improvements, it is working to position itself to best advantage in today’s aviation economy.
The airport released a five-year strategic plan Wednesday with broad goals to strengthen its finances and to better meet the needs of its passengers. The plan centers on utilizing every asset the airport has while recognizing its limitations.
A lot of the ideas in the strategic plan aren’t new. They focus on improving customer service, building passenger flights, and becoming a cargo hub.
But the plan comes with a key component: buy-in from the business community. It was created with the help of the Regional Business Council and Civic Progress — which represent the leaders of St. Louis’s largest businesses.
Airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said that a key part of understanding the plan is recognizing that St. Louis is no longer a large passenger hub.
“I still think we as a whole as a community look backwards instead of looking forwards. And so yes, we are a medium-sized hub. That’s who we are in a city this size,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.
“This is not the same airport that it was in 1999. This industry is not the same industry that it was in 1999. You have to adapt to the changing aviation industry. And large hubs with concentrated airline single hubs have gone to those markets with the 8, the 9 the 10, the 15 million people. So we have to make ourselves the best that we can be,” she added.
Lambert had more than 12 million passengers in 2014. In 2000 the airport served more than twice that number.
While one of the plan’s four goals is “sustain and grow passenger air service,” Hamm-Niebruegge said that the measure of plan’s success won’t be the number of nonstop flights the airport has or the number of passengers it attracts each year.
“That’s not really one of our goals. That’s not one of our key strategies,” she said. “This goes back to the economy and this region is going to have to grow. We cannot artificially create demand. There has to be a need for people to fly in and out of this region. So that’s why were focused on growth in every aspect.”
One way the airport does plan to grow passenger flights is by coordinating with the future needs of St. Louis corporations.
“We try and be able to say ‘are you growing Boeing or Monsanto or Enterprise? And if so, where is that growth going to be? What markets are you going to be in?’ So it’s a very concentrated effort on understanding data, gathering data and looking forward,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.
But the other main goals of the strategic plan center on customer satisfaction and building alternate revenue streams for the airport by becoming a cargo hub, making better use of 2,500 acres of undeveloped land, and in general increasing the amount of non-aviation revenue.
According to Hamm-Niebruegge, half of Lambert’s revenue already comes from non-aviation sources such as airport vendors.
Lambert currently has more than 250 flights a day during peak times and has non-stop flights to more than 60 destinations. The airport's complete strategic plan can be found on its website.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.