As a kid growing up on the north shore of New Orleans, Mike Edwards had always been drawn to airplanes. He began flying when he was 19, and earned his private pilot’s license when he was 20. Now 37, the somewhat-newly appointed director of aviation for the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport has learned no two days on his job are the same.
He has coordinated the landing of Air Force One, toured Air Force Two and shook hands with presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, as well as vice presidents Joe Biden and Mike Pence. One of his favorite days of work involved welcoming the LSU Football team back from Tuscaloosa after they defeated Alabama in 2019.
“Every little kid dreams of this much excitement,” Edwards says. “Being in this position has been a real honor.”
Edwards has more than 10 years of airport management experience, including working at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and serving as the operations manager for Baton Rouge before being promoted to director in 2018. His appointment came after a chaotic two-year process where the Metro Council interviewed multiple candidates who eventually dropped out over the sluggish pace and council infighting that ensued.
Despite the turbulence, Edwards seems focused on the future for BTR. We sat down with him to discuss what’s next for Baton Rouge’s airport and why “it’s about time” to fly local.
Why were you interested in leading the airport?
For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for aviation. Baton Rouge has many assets that provide the groundwork for continued growth both in and around the airport. The airport has a major economic impact on the region with an annual economic output of $1.1 billion and over 4,500 direct and indirect jobs. The airport operates as an enterprise fund, meaning that it does not receive any local taxes from the city-parish government. We generate our own revenue to fund operations and improvements.
What are some improvements travelers might see over the next couple of years?
I am looking forward to continued growth in multiple sectors, including air service, our Aviation Business Park and in general aviation. Airline seating capacity and passenger volume is up, we continue to secure new leases in the Aviation Business Park and two new Fixed Base Operators [businesses allowed to operate at the airport and use its facilities] are under construction. We signed a lease agreement with Helix Academy to start a charter school on our property, focusing on aviation and math, and hopefully attract more young people to the industry, which is seeing a shortage in air traffic controllers, pilots, engineers and mechanics. In the terminal, we are planning (to add new) food and beverage providers.
In the next year, we will also be upgrading the furniture in the ticketing and baggage claim areas as well as on both concourses. We want to make sure that our customers have a positive experience, whether arriving in Baton Rouge for the first time or returning home.
Any plans to revive the proposed
on-site hotel project?
Yes. We know the demand is there, and our vision is for an upscale hotel with a business center, conference rooms, a full-service restaurant and a parking garage. We will be advertising to select a developer in 2020. There was a great deal of interest leading up to the initial advertisement, but we did not receive the level of response that we were hoping for.
In light of improvements at the New Orleans airport and projections that it will see a dramatic increase in business, how is Baton Rouge planning to raise awareness about flights out of BTR?
I think the benefits of flying BTR, including the ease of getting to and through security, will be magnified in comparison to alternative airports. We always promote the ease of travel and the convenience factor. Here we can safely say that you can show up one hour before your flight and make it through security and to your gate on time. With terminal-front parking and fast security clearance, BTR provides one of the most convenient and easy airport experiences in the country. And passengers can still get to and from virtually any place worldwide with the services provided by American, Delta and United. We continue to advertise those strengths in our branding: “It’s About Time.”
What is your strategy to promote Baton Rouge as a better alternative?
To continue to promote the benefits, be a community partner, and continue to build support among area business and civic leaders to assist us in promoting the use of BTR. We cannot do it alone, but with more support from the business, government and leisure travel sectors, we can grow our passenger base, which is the most important factor in securing new service. We would love to see nonstop flights from Baton Rouge to Washington, D.C., and to Chicago. But airlines follow passengers. The more passengers who fly out of Baton Rouge, the more likely it is that airlines will offer additional flights. At the end of the day, the consumers themselves play the biggest role in influencing air service decisions. The best thing they can do is to fly BTR.
This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.