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Editorial: A second look at PTI’s future

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Piedmont Triad International Airport is seen as a blessing to some, a cash cow to others, and plenty of neighbors see it simply as a nuisance.

And now, according to the Business Travel Coalition, it is a dead man walking.

The airline consumer-advocacy groups placed PTI on a list, 50 strong, of airports it doesn’t feel will survive the current trends in fuel prices. The report, issued last month, claims that, because of $130 barrels of oil, “[T]he US commercial aviation industry is in full-blown crisis and heading toward a catastrophe,” and that every $10 increase means $4 billion in additional costs for passenger airlines.

And it lists PTI as a possible casualty on a separate website, savemyairport.com, along with Birmingham (Ala.) International, El Paso (Texas) International, Richmond (Va.) International and 46 others.

PTI, of course, has big plans that are being made manifest in real time as the airport undergoes transformation for the FedEx hub, scheduled to go fully online as of next year, and the HondaJet facility, which will start producing planes by 2010. Roads have been carved and paved; an interstate is in the planning. Real estate in the area is being rezoned and developed. Business plans are being formulated based on the promise of these two companies, the biggest to stake a claim in the Triad since Dell Computers built a manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem in 2005.

HondaJet, however, came in based on 2007 energy prices. FedEx first set eyes on PTI back in 1999 when gasoline was still about $1 a gallon and diesel was even less.

And there is some question whether FedEx will be able to prosper under the new paradigm. In its last quarter, FedEx posted a $241 million loss, though revenue rose 8 percent and the stock is still priced at about $75 a share. Oil has since climbed to $145 a barrel.

We are bullish about the prospect of the FedEx hub at PTI, and are watching eagerly as the project takes shape. And we like to think that the presence of FedEx insures the longevity of our favorite airport, even as the passenger carriers take their hits, even after Skybus went belly-up in January.

So what is to become of our poor little airport as we wait for the impending doom?

We’re not ready to give up on PTI just yet, and neither should you. Representatives from Delta, Northwest and US Air, the airport’s largest airlines, say there are no plans to discontinue service at PTI, though there may be some reductions in flights.

We’re not so sure things will go down the way BTC says they will, not because we don’t think the price of fuel will increase – we’re pretty sure it will – but because of the nature of the PTI project itself.

There’s a lot more at stake here than just low-fare airlines.

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