After 11 years as president and CEO of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, Raul Regalado is leaving BNA to work as a management consultant and to handle missionary work addressing world poverty. He works his last day at BNA on June 29. The City Paper’s William Williams chatted briefly with Regalado.
You oversaw significant expansion and renovation at BNA . As the facility turns 75 this year, what are your thoughts about its present condition and its future?
The point I’ve made recently is that we were able to complete a significant renovation that resulted in probably the most significant investment the airport authority has made during its history and during a time of great economic challenge. Since we opened the first phase (of three phases), all the feedback has been positive. Renovation and additions were items that I identified when I was interviewing for the job. The facility needed updating. Despite various fuel crises, the SARS scare, 9/11 and a bad economy, we got it done. It was a great effort by the airport team and this community.
You’ve brought in some heavy-hitters the past few months. Rob Wigington, who is serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer, will replace you as president and CEO. Doug Kreulen is now your senior VP of operations and maintenance. And Trudy Carson is your
air service development manager.
This was not by happenstance. The skills, talent and experience that these three bring to the organization was by design. I feel very confident the team in place will be able to continue the effectiveness of the authority. I feel bringing quality people on board is the most important legacy I’m leaving as opposed to the bricks and mortar successes.
Southwest Airlines flights represent about 50 percent of flights from Nashville. Is that percentage healthy for the airport?
Overall, there are some pluses and minuses. They have many flights that serve this community. We are one of Southwest’s focus cities. Since it’s Southwest, we have some of the lowest airfares in the country. On the other side of that, it’s been difficult to try to get additional international service. Southwest doesn’t fly internationally and they don’t interconnect with other airlines. But that appears to be changing.
BNA has very few direct flights to cities in other countries. Is that a source of disappointment as you leave?
We have Cancun and Montego Bay. In Canada, we provide service to Toronto. The key service the community has identified they would like is the London service. That is not going to happen again with American Airlines. But we are working on that with other airlines.
As of the end of 2011, BNA is now the nation’s 34th-busiest airport, up from 39th in 2010.
It’s certainly a positive indicator of the continued economic viability and health of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. But we’re not here just for the sake of gaining passengers. We’re here to serve the needs of the community.
In July 2009, China Airlines (which had operated at BNA since 2001) notified Nashville International Airport that it would suspend cargo operations at the airport. This suspension was a result of decreased levels of outbound cargo due to the challenging economic environment. Did that sting?
I’m still sorry the circumstances turned out the way they did. But it was beyond our control. China Airlines came into the market primarily to serve Dell. Over the years, the Dell operating model changed, and the demand for air service changed. There were circumstances beyond what we could control.
Of nine Tennessee-based airports that received $8.7 million in TDOT-funneled aeronautics grants, BNA got $5.25 million. That looks good on paper.
That was through the TDOT’s annual grant allocation of equity funds collected through fuel taxes. It’s indicative of the strength of our operations and of our needs.
What will you do next?
I have decided to open an office in downtown Nashville consulting and doing some mission work addressing world poverty through micro-financing.