The Fort Wayne International Airport hosted a peek behind the scenes for media Wednesday where half a million passengers and 22 million pounds of cargo go through each year.
The event consisted of a tour of the main terminal, both in secure and non-secure areas, and a bus tour around the runways, with stops at outlying structures including the airport fire station and maintenance barn. The barn houses 35 maintenance vehicles with about 21 of those used for snow removal for the runways.
Along the route some interesting airport features were pointed out, including the special variety of grass used around the runways. It is a type that birds don't like to eat, and staff keep it trimmed to a level that is unattractive for geese but too short to turn to seed so it don't attract small rodents, which would bring raptors.
Some of the fences around the airport will be raised a couple of feet soon. It seems unlikely a deer would jump over the already 8-foot-tall fences, but it could happen, said Scott D. Hinderman, new executive director of airports, so the airport will raise the level to 10 feet.
Hinderman started his job in March having worked as the director of operations and facilities for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority since May 2007.
The airport serves 500,000 passengers a year. In 2011 more than 22 million pounds of cargo flew in and out of Fort Wayne. And it is the home to the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard.
The complex is 3,600 acres and has the capability to offer 24-hour customs. Although many people are puzzled by the "international" in the airport's name, said Patrick Dooley, SCMD, airport development vice president, a lot of businesses in the area use customs for their overseas clients who fly directly here.
The terminal has eight gates and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Hinderman said they are much like a mall: They provide the space, and businesses come in and lease it. Currently Delta, United American and Allegiant Airlines offer passenger service.
Hinderman said the airport has seen a 1.5 percent growth rate over the past year, and he is encouraged that airlines have figured out how to streamline their operations to make air service profitable again.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Feb. 12 approved the airport's 20-year master plan, and within the next 20 days the plan will be online where the public can view it. Its primary focus is on growth opportunities looking at airfields, terminal, cargo facilities, general aviation, roads, drainage and utilities, and surrounding buildings and land.
They have added land acquisition into their plans and are gradually buying up property so 30 years from now the airport will still have room to grow into.
Hinderman said they would continue to maintain their high standards of service while looking to expand their destination points over the next five years, possibly to Washington, D.C., and Denver.
They pride themselves on their customer service, Hinderman said. They are known throughout the airport industry as the cookie airport because of the treats handed out free to passengers. But it goes beyond that, he said. They will take passengers to their cars in a covered golf cart, and in the winter they will even help dig out passengers' vehicles.
Hinderman said their ratio of chairs to people in the waiting areas exceeds the number of people waiting to board a plane, unlike some airports around the country where people are forced to sit on the floor as they wait. The airport has free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal, and for those who do not have their laptops once they check through security there are computer terminals they can use to access email.
The airport employs 57 full time, 28 part time, five to 10 seasonally and has 50 to 70 volunteers.