A Conversation: Al Denson


A ConversationPhotography by Beau Gustafson

A fixture at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for many years, Al Denson inherited the top spot back in 2000. He is in the midst of overseeing the airport modernization project scheduled to be completed in mid-2014.

“This project was a huge undertaking, but the Birmingham Airport Authority leadership felt it was essential to the vibrancy of our great city.  When I took the top seat in 2000, I knew I needed a plan to grow this airport.  My strategy would involve three major components: the runway extension, air cargo, and a terminal modernization.

“The airport infrastructure needed to improve to continue to serve our growing community. Preparing for this project included increasing our cash liquidity.  We changed our operating/leasing model from shared revenue to a model that would allow us to secure funding for this project. We positioned ourselves to meet with the rating agencies and had a SWA representative there to support us.  In doing that, we were able to minimize the impact to airline rates and charges.

“At a recent industry financial conference, BHM was used as a model for other airports to follow when considering capital improvement projects. After 9/11, I committed to the Authority Board to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for security related issues.  Then I made a commitment to TSA and FAA to establish a collaborative partnership to work together. Since then I have worked on a national and global level with American Association of Airport Executives on the Policy and Review Committee in conjunction with TSA and FAA to optimize safety and security issues at airports and on global issues with the international board.

“The airport terminal, last modernized in the 1990s, was aged and incapable of serving our passengers’ needs. The $201.6 million project called for a complete renovation of the building’s infrastructure.  Phase I of the terminal modernization started with demolishing the existing facility and constructing a new infrastructure and facility in some portion.  The rebuild includes new electrical systems, state of the art technology, and communications. The terminal’s 40-year-old roof and 20-year-old HVAC system made it difficult control the environment; the new roof provides for better insulation and better energy efficiencies.

“A Federal Inspection Station was a major Terminal Modernization Project goal.  This customs station prepares the airport for direct international traffic.  At the completion of this project, BHM will have the infrastructure it needs to market and serve air carriers from across the globe.  The state of Alabama is full of global industries and we are prepared to serve our community in that fashion.  The facility was also planned to easily facilitate the build out of four additional gates when the time comes for more growth.

“During the design phase of this project, the Birmingham Airport Authority committed to making a difference in the community with its innovative approach to sustainability. By incorporating sustainability in the Terminal Modernization Project, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport will become a beautiful facility that saves on energy and operating costs while reducing its environmental impact on the region. The FAA under their Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program has invested $6.5 million in our project’s sustainable elements.

“An engine of economic growth, the direct, indirect, and induced spending results combine to form a total of $567 million.When combined, the spending-generated and expenditure-reported totals amount to nearly $1 billion of annual economic impact of the economy of the Birmingham region, as well as 16,000 direct and indirect jobs and more than $444 million of additional payroll to the Birmingham MSA.”

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