AIRPORT'S NEW CHIEF IS ON CLOUD NINE
By Linda Loyd
Inquirer Staff Writer
Mark Gale was already in love with aviation in 1982 when he trained as a customer service agent for Altair Airlines at Philadelphia International Airport. But a few weeks into the job, Altair went belly-up. Gale knew what he wanted, though, and enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
In the mid-1980s, Gale was back at the Philadelphia airport working as a college intern. He returned permanently in 1989.
He has been a deputy aviation director since 2000, with responsibility for everything from operations, security, safety and maintenance to information technology, engineering design and construction, emergency plans, snow removal and grounds at Philadelphia International and Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
Ten days ago, Gale, 46, was named acting director of aviation, taking over from Charles J. Isdell, who retired Jan. 30.
"This has been a dream of mine for a long time, to have an airport director's job - particularly in Philadelphia because I'm native to the area," he said.
Question: After the recent opening of the "connector" building between Terminals D and E, and other major improvements to those terminals, what's next on the airport drawing board?
Answer: We have two projects in design. One to expand and renovate Terminal F. We're going to relocate the baggage-claim facilities across the road to the arrivals side of the airport. We're also going to expand the concessions with more food, beverage and retail. F has become our busiest terminal.
The second project is an in-line explosives-detection baggage-screening system for Terminals B and C. It will be the latest technology in explosive-detection equipment and will screen bags a lot quicker. Ultimately, it will go a long way to improve US Airways operations in B and C.
Q: What are the challenges for expansion and growth?
A: We have a master plan. Both alternatives include a new runway along the Delaware River through currently what is the UPS property. We're anticipating that sometime this fall the FAA will identify what they think is the best alternative. Both alternatives would require the relocation of UPS to another site on the airport. . . . This new runway is critical for our growth.
Q: Is the city in discussions with UPS?
A: UPS knows that we have drawn up two scenarios that call for a runway to go through their existing property. We have identified another location contiguous to the airfield in Delaware County that we think would serve their purposes. We're just in a discussion stage.
Q: If Philadelphia does not get another runway, what kind of traffic and delays are projected?
A: Our delays now are about 10 minutes per operation, per arrival and departure. A 10-minute delay could grow to 30 minutes in about 10 years. The FAA calculates a delay as 15 minutes past the time you were scheduled to depart, wheels up off the ground.
Q: The airport just built an extension to an existing runway, 17-35, so that larger jets can land. When will it open?
A: Construction is done. The FAA hopes by Feb. 12 to have the instrument-landing system flight-checked and published to all the pilots. It is expected to reduce delay by 8 percent.
Q: How much airport parking is there, and is it enough?
A: We have 18,000 spaces - a little over 6,000 in the economy lot and just under 12,000 in the garages. We've added 323 spaces to the economy lot as a result of the 17-35 [runway] extension. We gained spaces by shifting the economy lot around and building parking where a gas station used to be. We'll get another 800 spaces as part of knocking down the Overseas Terminal. I think we're OK for now. We need to make sure that we have parking built into our planning.
Q: In the recession, how are airport shops faring?
A: Through November, our concessions were in the black, showing improvements over 2007, in all but one category: retail. Even retail (clothing, jewelry, tech gadgets) was only down by 1.7 percent from 2007.
Q: How many employees work for you, and how many total employees at the airport?
A: There are about 800 city aviation employees here at International and 20 employees at Northeast airport. The Philadelphia Police Department has 155 uniformed patrol officers and 10 lieutenants and a commanding officer. There are 65 city aircraft rescue and firefighters here. There are 18,000 badged employees at the airport who work for TSA, the airlines, concessions and in parking.
Q: How many passengers passed through PHL last year?
A: We had 31.8 million passengers in 2008, compared to 32.2 million in 2007.
Q: What will your responsibilities be?
A: My duties, and attention to details, have to be more of an umbrella across lines to the other parts of the airport business here. Anything with respect to our business - whether it be properties and concessions or financial issues - all of that is going to have to now funnel through my head.
This is a really, really great place. And while we've accomplished a lot, I don't think that we have realized our full potential yet. There's a lot more that we can do, and, hopefully, I'll be a part of that.
Source - Philadelphia Inquirer