Huntsville International Airport is among the entities to receive aid in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides financial assistance to the air travel industry to help overcome the staggering impacts of COVID-19. The legislation provides some $10 billion to the industry, including airports across the nation.
Commercial airports have reported 50 to 85 percent revenue loss since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Huntsville International is among the hardest hit, according to the Aviation Council of Alabama.
“Huntsville International Airport projects that we will lose 75 percent of revenue for the next three months or a total of $7 million to $10 million,” said Rick Tucker, HSV CEO. “Our airport is operating in mission critical mode and without emergency assistance the outlook for us seems grim.”
Decatur’s Pryor Field Airport Authority is reporting a drastic decrease in business traffic as well.
“Tenants are not flying very much and none of the airport’s regular business travelers have utilized the facility in the last week,” said Airport Manager Adam Foutz.
Tucker said airports are economic drivers that provide vital transportation infrastructure to give communities access to business opportunities across the nation and the world.
“This is why we are tremendously grateful that the federal government has worked so hard to support the airline and airport workforce during these unprecedented times,” Tucker said. “We are pleased to see that after a week of negotiations, lawmakers, staff and the administration worked tirelessly to find an agreeable way to infuse needed funds into our organizations. These funds will protect our workforce so that we can continue providing passengers with an economic and cultural lifeline via the air transportation network.
“Huntsville International Airport will now do our part to continue safely operating and providing transportation services that will move our region past this pandemic and into the future.”
Tucker also thanked U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R, and Doug Jones, D, and U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks, R, and Robert Aderholt, R, for their work on the legislation.
This is an update to our original story. Our intent is to share more details about the incident in order to better inform the public about how human traffickers operate.
It began with a lost car in the parking garage at Huntsville International Airport and ended with three airport employees and a Delta Airlines manager halting what the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration confirmed as an attempted human trafficking incident – the first known incident of its kind at HSV.
Airport Public Relations and Customer Service Manager Jana Kuner; Airport Chief of Public Safety Chris Scott; Airport Public Safety Lt. Heath Murphy; and Delta Station Manager Randy Tiemann implemented DHS’s “If you see something, say something” Blue Campaign protocol when the circumstances surrounding a young female passenger and her mother triggered their attention.
Kuner encountered a woman in the airport parking garage, distressed because she could not find her car. In helping her locate it, Kuner and the woman struck up a conversation in which the woman shared how excited she was for her daughter who had answered an ad for a modeling job. The “modeling agents” had bought her an airline ticket, and her mother had just dropped her off at the terminal to go meet them.
Kuner has been trained to recognize that human traffickers often use manipulation or false promises of fame and fortune, well-paying acting and modeling jobs, or romantic relationships to lure vulnerable victims into trafficking situations.
Knowing the daughter would be waiting alone at the gate, Kuner walked down to the terminal to see if she needed anything and immediately recognized her based on her mother’s description. She was immediately suspicious because modeling candidates tend to be tall and this young woman was petite.
Kuner sat down and struck up a conversation with her and introduced her to a public safety officer at the airport. The officer talked about how human trafficking works and to get reassurances from her that the people on the other end were legitimate. The officer then offered to have a public safety escort meet the young woman at her destination, to assist her in finding her party.
The young woman, 21, was capable of making her own decisions, and Kuner was unable to convince her there might be a problem.
All the time they were chatting, however, the woman was getting a barrage of texts asking her questions like, “Where are you now?”, “Who is with you?”, “Have you boarded yet?”
Kuner spoke with a woman on the other end of the line who sounded convincing, although Kuner was still suspicious as the passenger boarded the plane.
Kuner returned to her office to call airport security for a public safety escort to meet the passenger at the other end of the flight. Less than 10 minutes later, Kuner got a call from airport security that the passenger had gotten off the plane and asked to speak to Kuner.
As it turned out, while the young woman was on the plane waiting to take off, her contact texted her they had cancelled her flight and told her to get off the airplane.
Authorities are now certain she was walking into a human trafficking trap and believe she had already been sold before boarding the plane.
“That was all I could hope to accomplish, to stop her from taking that flight because the circumstances didn’t make sense,” Kuner said. “The customer later called us to tell us how thankful she was for our actions.”
The Department of Homeland Security said millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide every year and if it can happen here in Huntsville, it can happen in any community to anyone.
“On Jan. 14, 2020, three Huntsville International Airport employees and one Delta Airlines employee became aware of and took action that prevented a young woman traveling out of the Huntsville International Airport from becoming a victim of human trafficking,” said Gail Linkins, TSA Federal Security Director for Alabama.
Rick Tucker, CEO of Huntsville International Airport, credits the airport’s customer service training for the stop.
“The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force stated that human trafficking is now the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and notes that this is not just a global epidemic, but a local one as well,” said Tucker. “We teach our employees and all of our partner organization’s employees at HSV to always be alert to customer needs.”
He said this awareness includes everything from requests for simple conveniences, all the way up to security measures utilizing the DHS’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign.
“In this instance, we had several employees that took that training to heart, noticed some irregularities and ultimately saved the life of a passenger that was confirmed to have been targeted for human trafficking,” Tucker said.
“We will continue this training with our employees because our passengers are our priority at Huntsville International Airport.”
The shovels dug deeply into wet but fertile ground as Navistar officially broke ground this week on a 50-acre, $125 million expansion of its manufacturing facilities in the Jetplex Industrial Park in Huntsville.
The build-out will drive Navistar’s total Huntsville footprint to 80 acres and add 110,000 square feet to its 300,000 square-foot plant. It will also add 145 skilled manufacturing jobs to build next-generation, big-bore powertrains.
“Over the past two decades, the city of Huntsville has been a valuable partner and we are eager to expand our presence here,” said Persio Lisboa, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Navistar. “The local skilled workforce has proudly supported the implementation of our product strategy, and we look forward to incorporating some of the most advanced manufacturing standards into our Navistar Diesel of Alabama facility to continue to bring best-in-class products to the market.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle tied Navistar’s truck engine production here to the rocket engines under development just a few miles away’
“Our skilled manufacturing workforce is ready to take on the production of Navistar’s global powertrain, adding capacity to Huntsville’s reputation as the ‘propulsion capital’ of the world,” he said. “Whether it’s across the country or across the universe, Huntsville gets you there.”
Already using the latest state-of-the-art technology, the company will implement a “manufacturing 4.0 strategy” in the plant.
Next-level software and assembly lines will drive everything from receiving components to delivery to the customers, revving up production while giving them more control over that production.
Navistar’s principal engine built in Huntsville is the International A26 – a 12.4-liter big-bore engine. The current 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space is dedicated to the A26 engine.
Navistar will use the additional space to produce next-generation big-bore powertrains developed with its global alliance partner Traton.
According to Brandon Tucker, Director of Operations, Navistar has built more than 1 million engines in Huntsville over the past 20 years.
“It’s easy to say one million engines, but if you step back and think about that – it’s a lot of engines,” he said. “It’s a lot of parts. It’s a lot of overtime. It’s a lot of work fixing problems. It’s a lot of hard work.
“Engines are what makes us great, it’s what gives us the competitive advantage … so this is really about a big job, well done.”
Tucker said it is also about business continuation.
“It’s a line in the sand, a jumping off point for big things to come,” he said. “Like any industry, we ride the tide of ebb and flow … but today it is time to focus on the future.”
He said things will move quickly on the new building with center office construction starting in March, site work and grading should begin by spring with core construction expected to start by midsummer. It is slated for completion the first half of 2023.
“Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport is proud to be home to Navistar,” said Rick Tucker, CEO of the Port of Huntsville. “Having been a corporate partner of theirs for over two decades, it means a lot to us that they would desire to continue to grow both the facility and their relationship with us.
“I’m certain that we will all work together to continue to propel Alabama forward.”
Balloons dropped over the ticket counters at Huntsville International Airport after USA Today announced HSV was named the No. 1 Small Airport in the U.S.
Madison Mayor Paul Finley and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong joined Rick Tucker, airport CEO, for a public celebration, complete with sparkling champagne, party hats and horns.
USA Today’s 10Best.com announced in December that HSV was among the final 10 to be nominated. The airport began an online voting effort asking visitors to vote often and share the link.
Tucker directed his thanks to the community since it was their votes that clearly put HSV over the top.
“Congratulations for making Huntsville International Airport the number one small airport in the U.S.,” Tucker said to thunderous applause. “We are ecstatic that HSV has been chosen by voters as North America’s best small airport for USA Today‘s 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards.
“This was definitely a team effort and we worked each and every day to provide excellent service to passengers, but we also work to represent this region well so that a visitor’s experience will reflect positively on the state of Alabama as whole.
“We are so grateful to our community for supporting HSV by voting. We share this honor with them and will continue to work hard to provide North Alabama and Southern Tennessee residents with even more great options at their local airport.”
According to Jana Kuner, public relations manager for the airport, celebratory parties are planned around the Tennessee Valley to thank businesses and residents for voting.
“We will host a party that is free to the public at the new Mars Music Hall in Downtown Huntsville on Saturday, March 7, from 7-10 p.m.,” she said. “The party will feature local cover band Juice and will serve to kick off a series of celebratory events throughout 2020.”
Kuner said the “pop-up” parties will be held across North Alabama, “Since we are a regional airport, we want to celebrate this designation with all of our passengers.”
For information on the HSV Kick-Off Celebration Party in March and the other HSV pop-up parties, visit FlyHuntsville.com, the airport’s Facebook page and Twitter @FlyHSV.
Nominees were chosen by a panel of experts which included editors from USA Today, editors from 10Best.com, expert contributors, and sources from other Gannett media properties. Finalists were chosen by an online public vote that took place over the course of four weeks.
Huntsville’s expertise in aerospace and missile defense has always been on full exhibit for visitors to Huntsville International Airport.
Now, thanks to a partnership between the airport and Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur, travelers will be greeted by artistic expressions of Alabama’s rich Southern culture and breathtaking landscapes created by artists from across the Tennessee Valley.
Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr joined Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker and Carnegie Visual Arts Center Executive Director Kim Mitchell for the unveiling of two inspirational art galleries at the airport.
The Airport Artway is on the second floor of the airport terminal, directly above the airline ticket counters and baggage claim.
The opening exhibit is entitled, “Friends and Family of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.” The gallery features of work from 15 local artists in a variety of mediums from traditional paintings and sculpture to mixed media.
The art gallery can be viewed anytime free of charge and will welcome new works every quarter.
“Huntsville International Airport is pleased to partner with Carnegie Visual Arts Center on our brand-new Airport Artway and Community Art Wall,” said Tucker. “We are excited to utilize our facility to continue to allow people from all over the world to experience a part of our community while visiting HSV.
“We are hopeful that this will encourage them to stay a little longer, come back and visit again, or take a piece of North Alabama home when they go.”
The airport also unveiled a Community Art Wall in the breezeway connecting the airport to the parking garage on the second level.
This quarter, the Community Art Wall is featuring a series entitled “Therapy Through Art.” It features art created through the Carnegie Center’s outreach program with its partner, the Mental Health Center of North Alabama. The artists in this series were students of the late Jason “JBird” Sharp, a well-respected Decatur artist.
“The Carnegie Visual Arts Center is excited to partner with the Huntsville International Airport to showcase local artists and community outreach programs like the Mental Health Association art therapy program,” said Mitchell. “This is a great opportunity to share with everyone the growing art community in our region.”
The airport will host artist receptions each quarter when a art series is unveiled.
Huntsville is one of six state airports to receive $14,344,107 in grants through the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund and federal appropriations. Shelby is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which authors and advances FAA and DOT funding legislation and the money is distributed based on entitlement and discretionary awards.
Huntsville will receive $10,426,057 to rehabilitate a runway and an apron (tarmac and ramp), to reconstruct taxiway lighting and airfield guidance signs, and to rehabilitate and construct a taxiway.
“We are grateful to Senator Shelby for his continued contributions to our industry and, specifically, for his support of this funding which will be used for needed improvements to Taxiway E that is parallel to our 10,000 foot east runway,” said Airport CEO Rick Tucker. “The east runway is the second longest runway in the Southeast and impacts not only our passenger and cargo operation in Huntsville, but this entire region of the country since we often receive diversions from other airports.”
Tucker said the improvements are necessary to ensure both runways remain operational to help continue economic development in North Alabama.
“Huntsville was recognized as the fastest-growing metro area in Alabama and is on track to become the state’s largest city in the next five years” said Dr. Carl J. Gessler Jr., chairman of the airport board. “In the past decade, more than half of the jobs in the state have been created in Huntsville so, as our city grows, it is imperative for the airport’s infrastructure to be able to keep up.”
The work is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.