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Robert S. Bowen was promoted by the Norfolk Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners to the position of Executive Director effective March 1, 2016. The Norfolk Airport Authority is a political sub-division of the Commonwealth of Virginia, an independent agency of the City of Norfolk, and is the owner, landlord and operator of the Norfolk International Airport.

Robert has worked for the Airport Authority for 32 years, previously serving as Deputy Executive Director from 2009 – 2016 and as Director of Operations from 1988 – 2009. Prior to joining the Airport Authority, Robert was employed at Piedmont Aviation’s Norfolk International Airport general aviation facility from 1977 - 1987 in a succession of positions starting as an aircraft line serviceman and ending as assistant manager.

Mr. Bowen will be live on the forum at 1pm on Friday, July 10th.  Check back then to ask your questions and learn more!

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Alisa Crider acrider
Hello Robert! We're so glad to have you on the forum today. Thanks for joining us!
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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
I am really looking forward to hearing Robert Bowen provide his insights on the airline industry today. He has certainly had an insider's look at how the COVID crisis has impacted this critically important industry
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Alisa Crider acrider
Nobody could have predicted this rapid and sudden of a drop in passenger travel, but Norfolk International Airport has dealt with other emergency scenarios in the past. What has ORF done to build its resiliency for this type of event?
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Robert Bowen
  1. We are a fiscally conservative agency because the Airport is a user-funded facility that is not supported by tax revenue from the City of Norfolk.  We rely on revenue from parking fees, tenant rents, concessions and rental car commissions and aircraft landing fees to meet our operational expenses such as wages, salaries and benefits for the 211 Airport Authority employees, utilities, insurance, maintenance and repairs to the airfield and terminal facilities.  Capital improvements and maintenance are funded with Federal and State grants as well as Passenger Facility Charges for eligible projects, and with retained earnings from previous years.  In other words, we operate within self-imposed fiscal constraints that enable us to build a reserve of non-restricted and restricted funds.  However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented and airports as well as airlines are relying on additional emergency funding from Congress.
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Alisa Crider acrider
Is there a scenario where ORF can emerge stronger from this or is it just about surviving until the storm passes? Also, how do you think ORF is faring compared to other airports of its size?
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Robert Bowen
  1. This is more about surviving right now. Even though passenger activity has trended up from the lows of April, there is uncertainty if this trend will be sustained after the summer leisure traffic subsides.  The airlines are planning on significant employee layoffs after September which may result in a reduction of flights.  Norfolk’s normal passenger activity is evenly split between leisure and business, with a significant base of military and military-related passengers, but at this time our activity is mostly leisure.  The airlines are predicting that a full recovery will not be achieved until two or more years after a vaccine becomes widely available. 
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Alisa Crider acrider
Is domestic business travel likely to pick up quicker than international travel?
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Chris Stone, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE cstone
If "the airlines are predicting that a full recovery will not be achieved until two or more years after a vaccine becomes widely available" how does this impact ORF's plans to maintain their existing facilities (mainly runway and taxiways) and what impact does this have on any future expansion (dual runway) at ORF?  I thought I heard that at some point in time ORF needs a dual runway so the main runway can be shut down for repairs.  What is the timeline and how critical is it?

Chris Stone PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP
Senior Principal

C L A R K N E X S E N
100 Years | 100 Days of Giving

4525 Main Street Suite 1400
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
757.455.5800 Tel
757.615.8318 Cell
cstone@clarknexsen.com
http://www.clarknexsen.com

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Robert Bowen
We are able to continue maintaining our airfield and terminal facilities using a combination of FAA and State entitlement and discretionary funds, and passenger facility charges for the eligible projects.  Non eligible projects will be funded with retained earnings or deferred where possible.  The proposed parallel runway remains in our master plan which can be accessed on the Airport's website.  The FAA has indicated that it will be well into the future before that project starts. 
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Robert Bowen
Is domestic business travel likely to pick up quicker than international travel?
  1. Yes, domestic travel, both business and leisure, are likely to pick up quicker than international travel. Domestic travel is more nimble than international which is burdened with treaties and special operating rules that are unique between the U.S. and each foreign destination.

 

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Alisa Crider acrider

Could you see a move away from urban cores that has resulted from COVID benefiting mid-sized airports like Norfolk?
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Robert Bowen
  1. Earlier this week I heard comments from Tom Barkin of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank that it is very possible this sort of migration to mid-size communities, such as Hampton Roads, could happen. If so, the airports like Norfolk that serve these mid-size communities would benefit.

 

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Alisa Crider acrider
Do you believe that the new technology like touch less check points will make airports more efficient? Do you plan to continue this post COVID? What other new technology is the airport anticipating?
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Robert Bowen
  1. Yes, touchless technology for check-in, baggage drop, and the security checkpoints will make airports more efficient and passenger friendly. I see it expanding to food & beverage, retail and rental car facilities as well.  No more cash or credit card transactions may become routine.  The Airport Authority will work with its tenants to achieve the benefits of new technology.  I see the security checkpoints and baggage screening as very likely to use new technologies for security functions.
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Chris Stone, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE cstone
With the focus on "branding" of our region, and the 757 initiative, do you ever see a time when the "Norfolk International Airport" is renamed to follow the branding to better reflect the entire region in which it serves? 

Chris Stone PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP
Senior Principal

C L A R K N E X S E N
100 Years | 100 Days of Giving

4525 Main Street Suite 1400
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
757.455.5800 Tel
757.615.8318 Cell
cstone@clarknexsen.com
http://www.clarknexsen.com

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Alisa Crider acrider
We are seeing that high traffic public areas, like the NY Subway are finally getting deep cleaned. Will you guys continue these cleaning protocols like ultra violet lights post COVID?
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Robert Bowen
With the focus on "branding" of our region, and the 757 initiative, do you ever see a time when the "Norfolk International Airport" is renamed to follow the branding to better reflect the entire region in which it serves? 
Chris, that is a complex political question that I best leave to our elected officials.
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Robert Bowen
We are seeing that high traffic public areas, like the NY Subway are finally getting deep cleaned. Will you guys continue these cleaning protocols like ultra violet lights post COVID?
 
  1. The Norfolk airport has an outstanding Janitorial Department, made up of Airport Authority employees that work 24/7 to keep the terminal facilities clean and sanitized. We make sure the Department is fully staffed and properly equipped to meet the challenges of the extra cleaning and sanitizing required by this pandemic.  We will continue these cleaning protocols after the pandemic subsides and plan to install ultra violet sanitizing devices for the escalator hand rails in the near future.  We will monitor innovations for other applications of ultra violet sanitizing technology.
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Alisa Crider acrider
As we wrap up, what other tips or insight would you like to share with the business leaders when it comes to travel?
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Chris Stone, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE cstone
One final quick thought, if revenues due to COVID are down (understandably) has the airport ever considered entering into an MOU where facilities such as Oceana could use the runway for training purposes?  I know that the airport in Newport News has/does.

Chris Stone PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP
Senior Principal

C L A R K N E X S E N
100 Years | 100 Days of Giving

4525 Main Street Suite 1400
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
757.455.5800 Tel
757.615.8318 Cell
cstone@clarknexsen.com
http://www.clarknexsen.com

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Robert Bowen
  1. In my opinion business travel will still be essential. We are coming proficient with virtual meetings but there are times when face to face, or mask to mask, interaction is valuable.  The nature of business travel via airlines has changed in terms of the changes in the routines of checking in, going through security and boarding.  Also, the level of amenities both in the airport and during the flight has somewhat diminished.  Many of the airport shops and restaurants are still closed or operating for limited hours due to the significant reduction in passenger activity and employee layoffs.  The airlines are operating fewer flights which means less flexibility of travel.  Patience will be required and tested.
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Alisa Crider acrider
Robert, thank you so much for your time. This has been very interesting. Please stay healthy and well and we look forward to talking more soon. 
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Robert Bowen
One final quick thought, if revenues due to COVID are down (understandably) has the airport ever considered entering into an MOU where facilities such as Oceana could use the runway for training purposes?  I know that the airport in Newport News has/does.
No, we are a very noise sensitive airport and our facilities would not be conducive for training purposes.
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