November 11, 2019

The Meaning of MSY

Most of the discussions about the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport have been held either at the 38,000-foot level: “It’s world-class!” (it is), or at ground-level: “Will you be able to get to it?” (you can).  Both of these conversations are important, but what is being missed are some of the less apparent, but perhaps even more significant, meanings of the gleaming new terminal.

The term “world-class” plays on multiple levels.  The first is clearly design.  As the final project of late architect César Pelli, the building is an appropriate capstone on the Argentine’s remarkable career, which included iconic buildings around the globe, like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.  The new MSY terminal is soaring, evocative, and functional.  It’s like a Richard Serra sculpture, but with great New Orleans food inside.  There are few mid-sized airports in the world, let alone America, with this level of design panache.

The new MSY is also world-class in that it is world-connected.  Ten years ago, our only international flights were seasonal vacation jaunts to Mexico.  Now, we have eight non-stop international flights.  New direct service to Montreal started last week, and British Airways just announced that it is upgrading to 6-days-a-week to London starting in 2020.  The importance of these direct connections was underscored by last week’s announcement that Testronic, a London-based video game company, is expanding to New Orleans with a new 150-job office.

Third, the new MSY is world-class in its amenities.  Restaurants that showcase our world-class cuisine.  Stages that host our world-class music.  And global best-practices in everything from energy efficiency to parking technology to an “MSY Guest Pass” program that will allow non-fliers to go through security to greet loved ones, or enjoy a meal while overlooking the tarmac (only three other airports in the USA do this).

Another very important meaning of the new MSY is that we now have a better airport “business.”  The business model of airports is structured so that first, airports collect all non-airline revenues, such as parking and retail.  Then, the operating costs of running the airport (personnel, utilities, etc.) are subtracted.  Whatever is left over is divided up amongst the airlines, and charged to them as “cost per passenger.”  So, it is easy to see that the airlines want an airport with non-airline revenues as high as possible, and operating costs as low as possible.  The new MSY accomplishes higher revenues by upgrading retail and expanding parking.  Then, with its smaller footprint and modern construction, the new terminal will cost less to operate than the old one.  The result will be a lower cost-per-passenger charged to the airlines, and thus…  more flights to more destinations.

The final meaning of the new terminal is that we are fulfilling our promise to the business community and the region.  Five years ago, GNO, Inc. added “MSY & International Flights” to its long-term priority list.  We were convinced that a modern airport, with convenient connections to the country and to the world, was a prerequisite for economic and community success.  After a multi-year effort, GNO, Inc. and partners were successful in landing British Airways, the first direct flight to Europe since 1982.  Today, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport has 8 direct international flights, ensuring easy access to all of the Americas, and Europe.  MSY is the #5 fastest growing airport in the USA, with a 68% increase in enplanements over the past ten years.  Our airport has transformed from a liability with an uncertain future, to a pride-point and economic engine for the entire state.

Indeed, the new MSY has many meanings, and all of them mean a better future for Greater New Orleans.

Michael Hecht
President & CEO
Greater New Orleans, Inc.