Barnett touts consumer-focused changes at airport

Robert Barnett

In 2018, more than 4.4 billion people took to the air, the highest number in modern air travel history, according to the International Air Transport Association.

While the air service industry enjoyed universal success, 2018 also proved to be a record-breaking year for Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, which saw 10,557 Owensboro-based passengers utilize it.

This upswing in passengers has prompted major airlines and airports alike to adopt new practices and programs to better serve an increasingly diverse and demanding public. Changes coming down the pipe in the next year include free in-flight Wi-Fi, amenities for travelers with disabilities, nonbinary gender booking, use of biometric data for boarding efficiency, zero-waste flights as well as the potential of supersonic flight, to name a few.

For Owensboro's airport, there are significant and consumer-focused changes coming, said Rob Barnett, airport executive director.

"Our remodel projects focus on making the facility have an updated Owensboro feel," he said. "We want to fully represent everything that makes the county and the city of Owensboro so unique. ... We are working with various organizations like the Chamber Young Professionals, O.Z. Tyler and Moonlite BBQ to bring the new plans to life. One aspect is that O.Z. Tyler will be adding perforated vinyl into the entrance walkway to make it look like a rickhouse. We are also updating our photos of the area and are constantly adding to our display case."

While the facelift, including fresh paint and new signage at the entrance, is an important aspect of modernizing the airport's overall aesthetic, a major focus of Barnett's capital improvement plan centers around customer satisfaction as well as community engagement, he said. One new project that he is committed to is the construction of a playground.

"We just started this," he said. "We are wanting this airport to become more kid-friendly and provide them with a quality space. There are kids hanging out and folks that picnic, and we want to provide that grassy area for kids to be able to enjoy themselves and enjoy the planes. The top looks like an observation tower so kids can watch flights arrive and depart. The estimated cost will be roughly $125,000, and the play area will be inclusive so that it is open to all children."

To add to the experience, Barnett is also developing an agreement with a local food vendor, whom he wishes to remain unnamed through the planning stages, to provide homemade desserts and savory food options to further add to the overall customer experience, he said.

"With our new state-of-the-art planes with Cape Air and our new routes, this is an exciting time," he said. "We have got to do a better job of selling Owensboro, especially now that we are opening up to Nashville. This is an opportunity to really sell our community to these major hubs. Those hubs rely on regional airports heavily as a feeder.

"This community is fortunate to be an Essential Air recipient. Most communities this size do not have that luxury to provide low-price connectivity. Looking at our capital improvement plans, our fire station as well our inclusive playgrounds, we have our plates full; that is for sure, and that is a great thing."

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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