Survey suggests airport needs higher ‘visibility’

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Photo by Bryce Phillips Dan Ragan

Photo by Bryce Phillips
Dan Ragan, of Edwards Ragan and Associates, explains the results of a survey of attitudes toward the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.

Poor visibility isn’t exactly an airport’s dream environment, and a survey suggests Elizabethton Municipal Airport might need to clear away some fog.

The airport recently received a high satisfaction ranking from most of its customers — but still remains a mystery to a large number of Carter County citizens.

The survey, done at the request of airport leadership, measured customer and employee satisfaction, management assessment and community perception.

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The survey, completed by Dan Ragan of Edwards Ragan and Associates, found 90.5 percent of the customers who completed the survey liked the airport, either a great deal or a moderate amount.

Ragan said 78.1 percent of customers classified the Elizabethton airport as better than other airports and 88.5 percent gave a high satisfaction rating for customer service, professionalism and problem-solving skills.
Airport Manager Dan Cogan was not surprised by the results of the survey.

“Even though the line staff is comprised almost completely of college students working part-time jobs, they are trained, equipped and performing like true professionals,” he said. “I am very proud of what we have accomplished here. The guys are a great team and this survey shows how smart, hardworking and dedicated they are.”

While the airport got high rankings for customer satisfaction, Ragan found many in the community were not familiar with the airport or did not understand what value it brought to the community. Ragan said this showed the airport needed to work on increasing its visibility in the community and make better use of public relations opportunities.

Ragan said he received no direction from the Elizabethton Airport Commission or the airport staff when interviewing members of the Carter County community.

“I used my own discretion and I feel comfortable with who I spoke with,” Ragan said.

He said there were some who were surveyed that found the airport was a positive for economic development and that the region received national exposure because of some of the customers who flew into the airport.

“There were others that didn’t know what is going on up here,” Ragan said. “They see the planes coming in and out but they don’t know how it benefits the community. The general public doesn’t see the value of the grants the airport receives and how that money benefits the county.”

Airport Commission Chairman Bill Greene said the airport needed to do a better job showcasing itself in the community.

Ragan recommended the airport expand its public relations activities and have more of a presence at events hosted by local chambers of commerce.

Greene added that the interaction with the county could improve both ways. He said many customers’ business in Carter County ends when they walk out the door of the airport. He said there were no lodging options and many were not familiar with the restaurants and businesses that could be found here.

“Once the people leave the airport, nothing happens,” Greene said. “We don’t attract any of those dollars. Those dollars do not stay in Carter County. I don’t know what we could do to change that.”

Through the survey, Ragan broke the customers down into three groups: The top-spending customers who have spent $10,000 at the airport from July 2009 through today; the based-customers who have an airplane stationed at Elizabethton; and regional aviators and the Super Cub Fly-In attendees.

A total of 181 surveys were sent out to the known emails of customers at the Elizabethton airport and 96 responses were received, which equaled to a 55 percent response rate.

“This is an astronomically high response rate on this type of research,” Ragan said. “It clearly shows high customer satisfaction and interest in the airport. Typically, a 20 percent response to an emailed customer survey is considered good.”

He noted 16 percent of the airport’s customers could not be reached because they were “transients,” customers who stopped at the airport to refuel and did not leave an email address for further contact.

The most common use for the airport is recreation for 76 percent of the customers. The second most common is business with 17.8 percent of the customers.

Of those surveyed, 82 percent found the airport was either extremely convenient or very convenient to use. Also, 68.2 percent ranked the airport’s service quality as either much better or somewhat better as compared to other airports.

Eighty-one percent of customers said they would be extremely likely or very likely to recommend the Elizabethton airport to people they know.

Ragan said most of the negative responses came from participants in the Super Cub Fly-In that was held at the airport from 2008 to 2011.

“Those responses are disappointing,” Cogan said. “I have always felt that the airport pulled out all the stops to provide great service to the participants.”

Greene commended the airport for voluntarily undergoing the customer service survey.

“This is a brave move, not only for a municipal entity, but for any organization,” Greene said. “How many others would have a survey done for how they are performing? I am not aware of any other municipalities or spokes of government that have stood up and said, ‘how are we doing?’ It takes guts for a leadership team to stand up and say, ‘tell us what you think.’ ”