In honor of “True Grit,” call this bold talk from a one-eyed fat man who’s not much in a Christmas spirit after reading about the Little Rock Airport Commission essentially telling airport Director Ron Mathieu yesterday that all is forgiven. He lied to them about a $40,000 ad expense for his kid’s school. He charged personal expenses to the public. He lived like a duke.
All of that is forgiven because he — like most other major airport directors — know the kind of jargon you have to sling to get readily available federal grant money pouring to build Taj Mahal airports whether they are needed or not. The commissioners — who enjoy choice parking places and fine official junkets on account of their stature — bask in Mathieu’s monument program. They really seem to think if you build an airport, a city will come, and not the other way around.
An ever-grander airport will be just a Potemkin village built on dreams, if past expansions are any measure. Little Rock can and should hope the city will need a much bigger airport someday, but expanding the passenger portion of the airport has little to do with the city’s organic growth.
Airport passenger boardings, the main measure of commercial traffic, dropped a whopping 25 percent at Little Rock National between 2000 and 2009, from 1.285 million to 948,000. 2010 isn’t looking much better. The airport boarded 91,647 in November this year, 19 fewer than the 91,966 boarded 10 years ago in November 2000.
Oh, but not to worry, as several airport commissioners have noted. Airport revenues have skyrocketed. That’s because they are sticking it to airport consumers and sticking it to them hard.