Fewer Flights to Small Airports

Regional Airport

Here’s the bottom line. We have four network airlines — American, Delta, United and Southwest — and another five carriers with limited route systems: Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier and Virgin America. That’s what bankruptcies, mergers and consolidations have left us.

So says Joe Sharkey, On the Road guy at The New York Times. A noble road warrior, Joe often drives the two hours from his home in Tucson to catch long-haul flights from Phoenix that don’t serve Tucson. Kind of like the difference between television and the Internet.

Joe doesn’t like the way small and mid-size cities are losing air service and being forced to operate in second gear.

To back him up, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology International Center for Air Transportation tells us “between 2007 and 2012, the 29 largest airports in the United States lost 8.8 percent of flights, while the rest, the smaller airports, lost 21.3 percent.”

“The nation’s small and medium-sized airports have been disproportionately affected by these reductions in service, and recent airline behavior appears to signal a trend toward consolidation of service at the largest airports, with fewer direct flights available from smaller airports,” says the MIT report.

To fight back, communities ill served by airlines are adding financial incentives, hoping to attract carriers or retain service. Tucson (which lacks non-stop service to New York), for example, is raising money for the cause. And they’re taking credit for getting Alaska Airlines service to Portland.

To attract airlines, communities are “using revenue guarantees, free advertising and marketing, and other lures,” according to the M.I.T. report. JetBlue and Southwest are often hustled with relentless marketing and false pleasures of places needing air service.

In Reno, Nev., businesses like casinos, chain steak joints and strip malls contribute to an incentive fund for airlines to add service. Other midsize and small airports around the country are doing the same.

But as one consultant told the Times:  They can hire consultants, do studies, dangle money in front of airlines, try human sacrifice – whatever. It’s like these airports are saying, ‘We want to hope there’s hope.’

According to the MIT report:  “Airports in close geographic proximity to major hubs, and those with a systematic lack of local demand, may be at risk of losing all of their network-carrier service in the next five years.”

The Tarmac’s View:  A Navajo ‘dream catcher’ is probably as effective as incentives in persuading an airline to begin long-haul routes and other services. The reality is air choices will likely continue to diminish if you live in a small market for air travel. The only incentive airlines care about is the bottom line, and they get to decide which routes are profitable. Big city hubs make big bucks. There are no outliers operating in a territory all their own.

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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • 98103 at 1:42pm April 07, 2014

    and yet the big 4 still tell us that consolidation is good for smaller cities. [/rolleyes]

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