Monday Insight – August 28, 2023

The Red Way Airline Collapse.
Lessons Learned?
Or $3 Million Wasted On Civic Hubris & Bad Data?

The sudden failure of the Red Way airline experiment at Lincoln, Nebraska has delivered a whole passel of new perspectives on the potential of rural and regional air access.

The question is whether anybody is paying attention.

Civic Hubris v Reality. It’s important to recognize that Lincoln did indeed take up the cudgel and attempt a new approach to air service access. But it’s also necessary to note that there were some massive shortfalls in planning and implementation. Shortfalls that were not hidden, but which were clearly ignored. Civic rah-rah apparently took the place of hard analyses.

It has nothing to do with the convoluted semi-charter approach to getting airplanes at the gate. It’s all about true passenger demand and consumer options. The Red Way traffic experience is a valuable learning experience for all communities involved in trying to increase air service access.

The question is whether these lessons were learned or are just being ignored. Let’s take a look at what the Red Way experiment has illuminated.

The Don’t Hear Thunder Dynamic. The entire experiment was a success only in attracting and transporting sailboat fuel, not much more. Yet at least one usual-contributor to the web-kibitzing genre has lamented this failure, because, it claimed, “Lincoln really needed these flights.” (?)

The Cheerleader-From-The-Titanic-Poop-Deck Experience. The giant traffic vapor hole facing Red Way was almost certainly as obvious as a blemish on prom night, after the first fortnight of dispatching empty airplanes to points with not enough day-of-week passengers to fill a VW microbus.

Yet, check out the wondrous media coverage, including the perfunctory implications that the project was akin to a gold rush, with “thousands of seats sold!” Too bad nobody in the local media bothered to take a pencil to the claim. Message to local Lincoln media: your job is to report and inform, instead of being advocates for something in which you have no expertise.

The Sudden Underdog Excuses. It’s interesting to take in the various statements being issued after the service cessation announcement. In light of all the prior sunshine pronouncements, the following post-mortem missive is incredibly illuminating – emphasis added:

“…we face insurmountable challenges as a small startup in our industry, and the compounding of costs and lack of resources have made it impossible for us to sustain operations. It is our hope that other carriers see the incredible potential, and with their economies of scale, are able to provide Lincoln with the service it is so worthy of.”

Yikes. Funny, none of these against-the-odds heroics seem to be found in any of the pre-operation hype. They now claim what they faced from the start were “insurmountable” odds, and “lack of resources” – despite reportedly burning through over $900K in the first month, and supposedly $3 million total.

Galactic levels of chutzpah.

And in the hard light of having gone through a pile of public funds, it’s clear they didn’t run this statement by their legal department, either.

One point is right on, however. Other carriers will indeed get the message on the market potential.

The Mirage of The “Home Team Advantage.” Clearly, the plan was predicated on giving the folks driving on I-80 to and from OMA what they really really wanted, which was seats from Lincoln.

Regardless of the non-competitive nature of the Red Way concept, this followed a traditional consultant Pied-Piper line peddled to a lot of small communities: local service alone will have ‘em coming in droves, even if it is inferior to other air access options. Snake oil.

Final Point: Again, innovative approaches to air access should be encouraged. But when they fail it does nobody any good to try to excuse away the hard realities learned. It’s the aviation version of claiming the dog ate your homework. This Red Way program failed because it assumed a lot of factors not in evidence. Period.

Those three million bucks have some value in understanding what can and cannot be accomplished – a lesson for the future.

And, maybe not.


Check Out This Week’s Aviation Unscripted

When communities get “commercial flights” confused with “air service access.”

Related to the Red Way fiasco, the latest Unscripted video takes just ten minutes to outline events like this one, and how airports can better address the future.

At Red Way, it was obvious that other than impulse destinations such as Orlando, the day-of-week model to business destinations is nonsense for small and midsize airports.

Then we look at Dayton, where Avelo tossed in the towel. The question here is why the airport would spend the energy and resources to recruit an airline to offer exactly what was already in place with Allegiant.

Places like Salem and Dubuque are getting side tracked, assuming that impulse flights to Florida and ‘Vegas are “air access” when they do nothing to connect the community to the globe, and in fact benefit a small sliver of the consumer market.

Point: recruiting impulse destinations from high quality airlines like Avelo is positive. But it isn’t designed to connect communities to the globe. That is where network carrier access comes in.

Finally, we take a quick look at the JetBlue/Spirit deal and how it is really pro-competitive for the USA consumer.

Click here, spend ten minutes with us, and while there hit the follow button.



Monday Insight – August 21, 2023

The FAA Administrator Fiasco:
The Senate Is Threatening Air Safety
(But It’s Wonderfully Bipartisan)

The beat goes on. The air transportation system proceeds without leadership or direction at the top of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Avoiding Bumper Cars In The Sky. At least two more near-collisions have been reported in the last ten days. One in San Diego and one in Boston.

Two that we know of.

The Future Is Coming Over The FAA Transom. In addition to a failing ATC system, the advanced air mobility programs (AAM) are moving at full tilt, with no serious concern regarding recent electric prototype failures and cancellations at Tecnam and NASA.

The FAA is hip-deep in the regulatory aspects of AAM and must take leadership to guide the programs in several areas. Not to mention increasing indications that there are major – major – environmental issues sprouting up with battery manufacture and post-use disposition that have been conveniently buried, and which the FAA should be digging up.

Then we have the growing use of drones, which represents the need for increased regulatory scrutiny.

This is A Team Game. Not A Solo. Okay, it’s no revelation that Biden and Buttigieg are lost in political space. But what about the glorious senators on that confirmation committee who would have us believe that they are doing their jobs?

They are not. To put it clearly, they are irresponsible.

They bear oversight, and we don’t have any official leadership at the top of the FAA, at a time when decisions need to be made. They are doing nothing but kibitzing on the sidelines.

It Is A Safety Position. Find An Aviation Safety Professional. Maybe it’s time powerful shamans in the Senate stop treating the FAA Administrator job as some sort of political scalp-trophy. Apparently, nothing was learned from the political human sacrifice that took place with the Phil Washington fiasco.

The backroom powers just took a guy with very marginal aviation experience, and apparently told him not to worry, that the nomination was a slam dunk. Then we had the mind-numbing and ethics-angering confirmation hearings where it became clear the appointee could express no ideas, or fire, or gut-interest in either the current problems at the FAA, not to mention the future need to take a bulldozer to the place.

But there’s a lot of responsibility for this mess attributable to the august senators involved in this hoedown. Not one of the Senators involved specifically asked Mr. Washington what he had in mind for fixing the FAA. Not that it would have made much difference, as it was clear he had given it no real thought.

But it does say volumes about the mindset of the Senators involved. Mr. Washington had no clue about what to do in the future – and neither did any of the elected officials alternatively grilling him or mindlessly lauding him (depending on side of the aisle.)

While Planes Are Dodging Each Other, More Seat Warming Is In The Offing. Another announcement this past week was that the current temporary Administrator will by statute step down in October, and probably another temp will be put in charge. Three months ago, there was speculation that Mike Whitaker, a former FAA director, was on tap.

Silence since. The mess continues.

The fact is that the Senate committee doing the confirmation hearings is guilty of the same failures as were displayed by Mr. Washington. Instead of properly doing their homework on the issues surrounding the FAA, they were mostly shooting from the political hip.

So, the truth is that these senators’ game-playing nonsense is also putting the nation’s air transportation system in jeopardy.

But it is wonderfully bipartisan.

Monday Insight – August 14, 2023

The Economic Smoke Signals
Are We Looking At The 1929 of Air Travel Demand?

When key economic dynamics falter, historically so does growth in air travel demand.

Is the hard-wired connection between these no longer valid? Is air travel now exempt from things like buying power, inflation and consumer confidence?

It’s More Than The Economy. Actually, there are four critical dynamics in play that could turn the current air travel demand sunshine into dank economic darkness. Not evenly all across the airport system, as each airport has different consumer strengths and weaknesses.

Just for starters:

Inflation has raised food prices 20% over the past two years. Overall, things are up over 17%.

Interest rates – on which sales of major items depend – are at a 22-year high. Venture capital is now above 8% and has in many cases dried up.

Regardless of the jive media stories, the vast majority of Americans think the nation is going the wrong way.

Consumer backlash – which can bring on inept DOT interference – due to real and perceived sloppy service. It’s getting to the point that airports may prefer NOT to have some service due to the consumer problems inflicted.

There are geo-political factors in play – ones that could be the next CCP-Covid event, albeit not a virus.

Add that to low confidence in the direction of the economy, and logic would tell us that wallets for leisure and business travel would be closing.

Is There Demand Momentum Overhang? But going into the summer, it has been gangbusters for airlines, at least if measured by seats occupied. New entrants Avelo and Breeze have registered very strong load factors. ULCCs such as Frontier reported almost 85%.

Seems there is a disconnect here. It could be due to a number of issues. The question is whether the industry is heading for a nasty 4th quarter. We are seeing some indications of capacity pull-downs and schedule adjustments, however.

Forget The Consensus. I would suggest taking a look at the most recent Aviation Unscripted™ video. It compares the happy national economic news reported by much of the media – or, more accurately, the factors ignored by it – with translations from the real world.

Then, it outlines the bellwether facts that every airport and community planner need to analyzed.

Invest eleven minutes for perspectives that run counter to ambient thinking.

Economic gravity can only be countered for so long. Click here to look at the future. Tongue in cheek, we get the official Bidenomics view, and provide real-world translations. Then, the video outlines the air service dynamics to watch.

Join us, and if you’ve got comments, have at it.


Monday Insight – August 7, 2023

Industry Arrivals & Departures

It’s New Nonstop Service In Mother Russia – Even On The Runway, Maybe.

There are reports that some Russian airlines are making relying on reverse thrust instead of brakes on landing. Seems the embargo due to the Ukrainian war is making brakes hard to maintain. No telling what this is doing to the thrust reverser parts bin.

More Evidence That Boeing Is Out of The China Narrowbody Market

The recent order for 500 737MAX airliners from Air India really isn’t necessarily all coming off the future production line. Something like 55 of these will be comprised of 737s built for Chinese carriers and sitting undelivered for the last three years. Reports are that there are another 85 of these orphans undelivered. Meanwhile, Chinese airlines have continued to order A320s.

Challenges In ULCC Land – Troubling Smoke Signals

Breeze reported that it took in $67 million in 1Q 2023 revenue, and had expenses of $115 million. Some changes in the operating model are likely in the cards.

This relates also to rumbles out of other carriers, including Southwest and JetBlue, that demand is softening. The open question is whether the unique day-of-week, mostly non-leisure traffic model at MX is more vulnerable than traditional leisure-focused scheduling.

Also, there have been ridiculous stories that consumers are dropping domestic flying and shifting to international. Get real. The two sectors have entirely different demand drivers.

More news from the ULCC front: Avelo has cut two Florida markets – one even before the launch. The experimental Red Way operation at Lincoln has dropped three markets already.

Let’s put aside the careful wordsmithing in much of the media – the fact is that the majority of Americans feel the economy is going in the wrong direction. That doesn’t encourage discretionary travel, probably including low-frequency non-leisure service as well.

Shock! American Is Dropping Champagne!

It’s always a wonder regarding how some of these gadfly hobbyist aviation websites get off and running on non-stories.

It’s all over the ‘net – AA is replacing the real stuff with sparking white wine! The story line is that customers will be re-thinking future travel plans away from American because of being denied at boarding 3.5 ounces of a type of hootch almost none of them ever drink at home – or anywhere else for that matter.

American’s Fleet Plans – Lots of ASD Messages

American is reportedly in discussions with both Boeing and Airbus regarding a later-in-the-decade need for 100 additional 737MAX and A320 series airliners. Apparently not on the table: anything in the <100 seat category. The message for small lift providers – a.k.a “regional airlines” is not comforting. The fleet trend in the last five years has been for the major airline customer to acquire these machines for use at their partners.  The E175 is the only game in town.

One Last Shot –
The Advanced Air Mobility Concept In Deep Trouble

Yes, the media stories are all sunshine. Air taxis and short haul small airliners are on the way, y’all. There will be new vertiports and new intra-urban air transportation galore.

The fact is that the AAM concept has huge potential. But there is one looming torpedo on the horizon.

It’s called batteries. More accurately, the supply chain, the environmental damage, the production processing, and the dependence on China, for starters. Then there is the fact that actual cost and actual market demand are unknown because the ultimate AAM operating costs will be dependent on a new generation of battery sources that do not exist today.

For the past two years, BGI has been alone, with videos on the Aviation Unscripted™ channel, in factually outlining how the airline industry will need to deal with these challenges. No interest whatsoever, and no answers whatsoever. AAM has gained cult status. The narrative will tolerate no questions.

One Last Discussion. Hit this link and invest eight minutes to get an idea of what needs to be done to assure AAM is not just another VLJ concept on steroids.

Then, it’s time to move on because AAM has taken on a status where anything contrary to the consensus narrative is not welcome.

I am on record: the AAM concept could be the next huge dynamic in air transportation. But it won’t unless the planners face reality.

Moving on.

Monday Insight – July 31, 2023

Customer Service Staff
Are The Airlines’ Front Line.

But Who Are They Really Working For?

Let’s get clear:

The US DOT is now armed and ready to take on the airline industry.

It makes great press and diverts attention away from the mess at the FAA and ATC.

What this means is that the airline industry cannot afford any avoidable service screw-ups. And when there are such events, they need to move quickly to diffuse the situation with hard facts. Nature abhors an information vacuum. Some folks in the media love them.

Farming Out Customer Service To Unconcerned Sharecroppers. An airline’s first line of defense from stupid and biased media reporting is their troops on the frontline, i.e., the staff dealing directly with the customer. 

Today, every airport is on “Candid Camera” – any foul-up, argument, altercation or service slip gets immediately videoed and on the global web in a heartbeat.

The problem is that in many cases, the airline’s front-line troops aren’t in the fight.  

While airlines spend bazillions on new apps and web support programs, they often “sharecrop” their airport customer service to outside contractors whose employees don’t work for the airline, have low pay and benefits, and not always care if the passenger ever flies the carrier again.

This is not a minor issue. The results of customer service sharecropping are popping out all over. It shows. Do a web search, and the stories of airline consumer “outrages” are running rampant.

A lost or damaged wheelchair here and there. A golf pro’s clubs being turned into junk sticks. Videos of gate agents stealing from a carry-on bag left behind. Stories of gate staff being paid an incentive commission for collecting excess baggage fees, which can skew decision-making. Stories of last-minute “gotcha” fees for carry-on.

Some of the stories are malarkey. But the media tends to take them as gospel. Today, just about anything down to a scuffed Samsonite gets traction.

The folks in Buttigieg’s press-pandering Washington clique and the suits in some sections of congress love this stuff. 

Enough. Invest eight minutes and get the complete perspective of how this really is the frontline that can protect the industry and the public from political dimbulb legislation.

There is jihad against the airline industry. And the industry needs to get a lot tighter.

The latest Aviation Unscripted™ video spends just over eight minutes outlining the new threat – a largely self-imposed threat – to the US airline industry. And what needs to be done.

Click here and take a look. It might rattle a cage or two.


Monday Insight – July 24, 2023

Tossing Money Down Proven Rat Holes
FAA Re-Authorization Has Failed Small Communities

Yup, this goes counter to all the glowing me-too stories about the Herculean heroics accomplished by congress in crafting a new FAA plan for the next five years.

It is true that the expected players inside the Marble Playpen are all ecstatic. They are saving rural airports!

It’s mostly malarkey, but they know the media will swallow this like tossing fish to trained circus seals.

The hard fact is that they’ve just perpetuated a number of programs that are proven to be galaxies away from 21st century reality. Programs that are failures, but which pander to the public.

Let’s take a look.

 Essential Air Service Gets Gold-Plated. Wonderful, there’s an 80% increase in funding for Essential Air Service – from $162 million to over $290 million.

Yessir, that will have “commercial” service come a’runnin’ to small airports across the USA. It has to. The politicians have spoken.

Does anybody in the aviation media really look at this stuff before parroting the official press releases?

Stepping out of the political hype, this will do almost nothing to enhance air access to rural America. The reasons are simple: the politicians are legislating on matters of which they are totally ignorant. They just assume that a small community without “commercial service” (totally undefined) at the local airport is in big economic yogurt.

They assume that consumers in these regions are trapped and can’t get out. They assume that a couple of “commercial flights” will be to these consumers like the helicopters on the top of the Saigon embassy. They just assume that there are no better options. They just assume there are airlines out there ready to jump in with service levels that are competitively better than other existing options, even when a 90-minute drive to a larger airport is in some cases more total travel-time efficient.

They are assuming fantasy. Politically-safe fantasy. Irresponsible fantasy.

Not a shred of analysis of investigation or research has been done regarding the dynamics and causes of the “loss” of air service at small communities, which differ at each. Not a hint of understanding of‘ consumer trends or the foundations of air travel as a communication channel.

None of the major flaws in the EAS system are even acknowledged. Just more money to mislead small communities that we are still in the 1980s. The EAS program and its failure is now locked in again.

Oblivious To The Future:  Maximizing The Opportunities At Rural Airports. The USA airport system is a huge asset. Unfortunately, politicians and the media can’t see beyond the end of the runway.

Take stock of the future value of rural America. Whether it is politically correct or not, the economic and social conditions in many large metro regions are descending into trendy woke chaos. One big metro had a reported six shooting deaths and 20 other incidents just last weekend. In the same state that just made “bail” free. Downtown San Francisco is almost literally being business-evacuated due to dimbulb governance.

Other stories have illuminated the financial benefits of getting out of a number of large cities and moving to smaller ones.

The point is this: rural and mid-size communities have huge opportunities to attract new investment, and that includes new opportunities for small airports, albeit not always including viable connective air service.

The thought of actually using this $290 EAS million to develop economic investment programs at rural airports wasn’t in the mix. A lot of saccharine babbling about the importance of rural air service from politicians reading off of crib sheets provided by brain-dead staffers does not suffice.

SCASD Grants – More Squandering. Then, they want money tossed at the Small Community Air Service Grant program – oblivious of the fact that SCASD has never truly funded permanent service improvements at anyplace even vaguely resembling what we mere mortals would define as a “small community.”

Again, this should be restructured as a program to award grants for economic development, based on hard metrics like job creation and revenue enhancement, instead of what it is today – air service for the sake of air service. While it is great to have, it gets shaky contending that lake of a couple of weekly ULCC impulse flights to Orlando for a sliver of the traveling public is an air service “shortfall.”

Think about it. The dough allocated to the SCASD program is less than the cost of two – count them, two – Abrams tanks being sent to the Ukraine. An economic development grant program of say, $100 million is a drop in the vapor-hole budget being sent to Kyiv. But that level of thinking might cause several politicians to collapse.

Keep ‘Em In The Cockpit For Another 24 Months. Another part is pushing commercial pilot retirement age to 67. Some hope that it will filter down to result in flights coming back to connective air service cadavers like Topeka and Youngstown.

There is no evidence that most pilots will excitedly stay on beyond 65. International flying restrictions, training issues and anything vaguely relating to aviation realities are out of the picture.

Let’s Get Everybody’s Parochial Opinions On Airlines. Then there is the proposed “airline experience” task force, comprised of a dozen or more “stake holders” from every walk of life short of bush people living in the Andaman Islands, to discuss how airlines must be more “resilient” to major flight disruptions.

Like the 2016 TRB Task Force on bringing service back to small airports, this will be yet another gigantic waste of time and money. But it does feel politically warm and fuzzy.

Like the old late-night ads hawking Ginsu knives, there’s more. Much more. But this is enough to paint the picture.

Yes, a lot of necessary areas are addressed in the 800+ page documents. But In regard specifically to the needs of rural airports, this FAA Re-Authorization extravaganza is a clear example of how our politicians can work together in a bi-partisan way to end up in the weeds.

They are perpetuating the status quo, not thinking about the future.

It is embarrassing. But we’re stuck with it


Monday Insight – July 17, 2023

Buttigieg & Biden Tell Airlines:
Eliminate Those Nasty Junk Fees.
(Unless They’re Our Junk Fees)

A few weeks ago, we were entertained by a great stand-up Washington stage performance.

The opening act was the charming and talented Pete “Mr. Mayor” Buttigieg, who delivered great comedy routine, recounting how his FAA’s incompetence was really the fault of the airlines. He was going to “allow” airlines to reduce flying in the Northeast to accommodate the fact his ATC couldn’t handle it, anyway. Hilarious.

Then the show’s headiner, Joe “The Big Guy” Biden, stumbled to the stage, belting out his latest hit tunes regarding how he was the Doctor of Love, saving the public from the tragedy of having to deal with airlines and their nasty junk fees.

‘Course, the delivery had all the credibility of an instant bargain sale at Fast Freddy’s used car emporium. Lots of half-facts, dishonest hype, stuttering, stammering and half-finished sentences indicating he forgot his morning dose of Prevagen.

Applause. Not Questions. Needless to say, the Big Guy was totally confident that the media groupies in attendance – from network correspondents to aviation web geeks – wouldn’t bother to fact-check any of his nonsense lyrics, and would bound out after the show to file adoring stories, truth notwithstanding.

When he completed his performance, he did a lovely if doddering pirouette to stage left, with his adoring media yelling questions, which – as usual – were ignored. The Big Guy doesn’t do curtain calls.

One of the key themes in this performance was the “junk fees” that airlines charge. They must be fully disclosed in the future, and airlines must stop hiding them. The full cost of the trip must be front and center before the consumer hits the website “enter” button.

Of course, that is already the case. And, it actually misleads consumers by implying that the federal junk fees (taxes) that are imposed by the government are part of what the airline charges.

It’s Not Disclosure When Mandatory Fees Are Buried With Optional Ones. Now, think about it. No other industry is required to do this.

An auto dealer or furniture store or plumbing supplier sets the price, including whatever add-ons they concoct. The sales taxes are separate from the product itself and are between the buyer and the celestial powers of government. In the case of airline websites, the enormous taxes are outlined and included, but are essentially buried in the total. They should be clearly identified as costs not related to the vendor – in this case, airlines. That would be full consumer disclosure.

These federal junk fees must be illuminated more prominently, as they  are the only ones where consumers have no option, and no avenue to actually be informed as to exactly what they are paying for.

Point: the consumer needs to be informed that one big chunk of air travel “junk fees” are imposed by an unquestioned government. The consumer at least technically has the option of declining most of the baggage and seat-selection and early boarding fees that the Big Guy calls “junk.” But his junk fees are pay it or stay home.

Consumers don’t have any such option. The Big Guy and his Mr. Mayor opening act didn’t mention this. And the swooning media in attendance was either too ignorant to figure it out or didn’t want to.

Clarity On The Way? Now, one of the FAA Re-Authorization bills actually includes the requirement that federal fees and taxes NOT be included and buried in the final web quote.

Identified, yes, but when the consumer specifically sees what the airline is charging, and then is informed of the double-digit additional federal fees, that’s what is called full disclosure.

So, yes, let’s make sure the consumer sees all the various voluntary “junk fees” as well as the involuntary junk charges coming from Washington.

Consumer Jihadists! To Arms! Needless to point out, the politicians have activated their consumer gadflies and media clowns to decry this as anti-consumer. One network story assured us that it was proposed only to allow airlines to gouge more profits from the hapless flying public.

They just don’t want the public to be made fully aware and ask questions about the fed’s junk fees.

The FAA Re-Auth bills are still churning, so no telling if this will go anywhere.

In any case, standby. More entertainment to come.

Monday Insight: July 10, 2023

ATC: The New Lethal Blow
To Small Community Local Airport Service

Let’s cut to the chase and stop the political ballroom dance around small community air service. It was challenging enough before, but now there are two new economic dynamics that are pounding nails into the obsolete coffins of traditional ASD programs.

Let’s start with a bare-knuckles outline of small community air service realities:

The challenges to keeping scheduled flights at the local small community airport are clear, but too often they are completely – and intentionally – ignored in a lot of air service development programs. It’s all about just doing another market study, then revise that leakage analysis, redraw the “capture map,” and we’ll keep on doing more voodoo until we get that air service the community needs.

About as ethical as a rigged carny game.

In most cases – not all, but most – the local consumers already have air service access. Only, it’s not at the local airport, and in most cases never will be again.

Typically, the only metric in these traditional approaches is “luring” or retaining scheduled flights, with the obsolete and inexcusable assumption that any service at the local airport will fill the air access needs of the community.

Ridiculously, many communities are dishonestly convinced that having ULCC flights to one or two vacation destinations is the same as network air service. ULCC service has entirely different economic underpinnings and different consumer bases. It doesn’t deliver air access. Just great low-fare flights to satisfy a thin impulse consumer sector, not the market in general.

They are great to have, but the fact that some consultants don’t clearly differentiate this to airport clients is a blot on the industry.

Completely ignored are:

Better Consumer Alternatives. In many cases, there are far more time-effective air access options that cannot be matched at the local airport. How about Topeka. Youngstown. Toledo. And more. The consumer alternatives of Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Detroit (respectively) are far too strong and service-effective than the two or three flights to a connecting hub from the local airport to compete against.

Cost Issues. The nonsense put out in programs such as SCASD about small communities suffering from “higher than average” air fares is inexcusable and bogus. The cost of air travel is dependent on several variables, including market size, location, local air service communities of interest and more. Yet the DOT still thinks that “air fares” are like apples, watermelons or a gallon of unleaded: all the same commodity whether in Grand Island, Spokane, or JFK.

Point: Small communities will by nature have air service that on a per-seat basis is more expensive than larger population airports. Fact: there is not one single example of a SCASD grant resulting in lower air fares at a truly small community airport.

Fleet Changes. Obvious. For the past 40 years, the size of airliners that can economically serve small population local airports has been growing. Please take a look. In the 1980s there were hundreds of 19-seat to 30-seat airliners under the marketing control of major airline brands. The economics of air transportation as well as new invasive communication channels have now resulted in the future smallest airliners available for small community air service is heading to 76 seats, and even there, they won’t replace 50-seaters on a one-to-one basis.

Now, there are two other factors that affect the potential of retaining connective air service at small community local airports.

Road Hubbing – The Death of The Concept of “Leakage.’ Driving from a small community to a larger community with better air service has traditionally been called “leakage.” This definition comes with the assumption that it’s just an aberrant situation – an opportunity to re-attract that traffic by recruiting local air service.

Not anymore.

Today, the highway system is part of the air transportation system. Consumers can often access far better service by driving, in some cases even 90 minutes to a larger airport. The canard that they would use the local airport if only – if only – there were flights there is blown to smithereens when one does a travel-time comparison. Which, naturally, can be a deal killer for future consultant updates to that “true market study.”

So, that gets usually replaced with unreliable data from Survey Monkey, illuminating that “75% of local consumers would prefer to use the local airport.” Naturally, there are never any specifications of what the service might be at the local airport.

The Unreliable Air Traffic Control System. This is not a drill.

Write this down, because it’s truth: Without the reasonable assurance that flights can operate reliably, airports with low-frequency service (read: small communities) can wave their local service good-bye.

And that is exactly where we are headed.

The incompetently managed, understaffed and unreliable ATC system is now in the process of killing much of the small community local air service that actually is still financially viable.

When we are having ground stops at major airports due to controller staffing, and entire regions of the nation seeing air transportation intentionally reduced due to ATC incompetence, the first to go will be small community service.

That doesn’t mean airlines pulling back, necessarily. But it does mean that consumers increasingly cannot rely on the dependability of the local service. Having under five flights a day makes the community vulnerable to cancellations that incredibly will inconvenience consumers. So they will drive to larger airports with more options and less vulnerability to the ATC mess.

Take Wichita Falls, Texas. If one of the two flights there gets zapped by system delays causing misconnects or cancellations, the consumer will have no choice but to take the 2.5 – 3.5-hour drive to DFW. The entire schedule underpinning for service at the local airport is destroyed.

Buttigieg can do all the fancy dancing he wants. The media can swoon to protect his DOT. The excuse can be given that it’s been developing for years. But now, under his watch, the air transportation system in the USA is deteriorating, and the best he can do is jive press programs with Biden attacking airlines.

What Now? What this means is that small communities need to re-think and re-plan the economic development program for the local airport.

When the data shows that getting network carrier service is less than lottery odds, stop the jive studies. Start with a new plan to engineer the local airport into an economic generator. Even if connective air service is viable, the potential for attracting new business still is there.

We’ll leave it at that. But the point is that the market situation outlined above will not be addressed in trying to bring back the 1980s.

The next ten years can be a lot more valuable.

Monday Insight – June 19, 2023

The FAA Reauthorization –
Defrauding Small Communities of The Truth

Yes, I know.

Virtually every aviation alphabet organization, labor union, and random association within a couple of zip codes of an airport have come out lauding the wondrous work done by the respective congressional committees on FAA Reauthorization.

Come on. Let’s face realities. Most of these organizations have no choice but to generally applaud what powerful politicians propose. It’s the nature of the system. Understandable.

It is unless there are major problems that need to be addressed. And that’s the case here.

Charlatan Solutions, Sloppy Work. When it comes to the Small Community Air Service section of the Senate bill, it has lift-off into fantasy. It would be refreshing to see somebody in aviation at least question the nonsense these politicians are peddling. In fact, in all the searches done, there isn’t one mention by any organization regarding the Small Community Air Service section. They babble and gush about other parts of the bill, but not the air service section.

It’s a major issue, and yet the silence is deafening. The likely reason is that most readers can tell right away that the Small Community Air Service section is nonsense.

So, let’s put out some truth about this section of the bill. It’s not politically correct. But it is the truth.

There were some variances in the Senate and House versions. But when it comes to Small Community Air Service, these politicians in both houses have shifted completely into ethical good-bye gear. It is not acceptable to proffer legislation on matters they obviously know nothing about.

No Attempt To Address Air Transportation Realities. The Senate committee has spewed out glowing descriptions of how the bill will be the magic for small community air service. But for anyone with modicum of knowledge of air transportation, this missive descends into a disgusting wallow in slapdash inaccuracies concocted by politicians who know nothing about aviation, and worse have no problem misleading the American people.

Instant Solutions. Just Add Money. The magic elixirs of rural air service: more EAS money, and more funding for the Small Community Air Service Development program, a cadaver that never has really worked for small communities, anyway.

EAS Is Not A National Solution. And SCASD Is Now A Pathetic Misfire. In short, these irresponsible politicians are lying to the public by maintaining that just tossing money at expanding EAS, and also adding dough to the now useless Small Community Air Service Development program will bring out a “variety” of airlines to serve local airports at small communities.

It is disgraceful that they made no effort to learn about air service and consumer realities. No understanding of what “air service” is, or how EAS is a only a limited tool, not a magic cure, based on today’s fleets and airline players. There is indeed a role for the EAS system. But these guys don’t know what it is.

Legislation Based On Ignorance. This bill has no understanding of the difference between “air access” and just having airplanes at a rural gate. Not a clue about airline fleets or capabilities. No understanding of consumer trends or the truth that often air service at an alternative larger airport is more time-efficient than a couple flights at the local aerodrome.

If these Senators were doctors, they’d be in jail for malpractice.

Coming This Friday, June 23: A Video Covering The Facts. Clear your calendar. We’ve decided to do what other consultants avoid: telling the facts about small community air service, about the realities facing these airports, and then outline the policy changes needed.

This Friday will be a special edition of Aviation Unscripted™, our growing video channel.

The “we” will be Bill Swelbar and myself. Most folks know that neither of us suffer fools gladly and as far as rural air service is concerned, these politicians are a latter-day version of The Gong Show. (Google it, if you must.)

Swelbar-Zhong has done extensive research on small community air access. The data are unshakable – the current policies are completely obsolete and not based on the real world. In addition, BGI has extensive experience with the SCASD program. In fact, we earned over $20 million for our clients in the early years. But we know how changes in air transportation have relegated it to being useless.

Preview of Bad Policy. As a hint of what to expect, let’s go over the four key points the Senate folks are trying to put over on the US public.

Bogus: Bringing More Air Service to Rural and Underserved Areas”

This is based on complete hype. Won’t happen. They are claiming that all small communities must have local air service, or economic disaster will ensue. Not a shred of facts. No understanding of air service access realities or of the air transportation industry,

Instead, they deliver the dishonesty that more EAS gelt will save the day. At Aviation Unscripted™ Bill and I are going to inject an antidote to this nonsense. It’s called facts.

Assumes Airlines That Don’t Exist: Broadens Eligibility Requirement for EAS Airlines.”

They’re implying that there are lots – in their words, a “variety” – of airlines ready to serve small communities just as soon as EAS funding goes up and certain other changes are made.

Remember, these politicians think “air service” is fundamentally the same as stringing an extension cord into the electrical grid, or running a pipe to the sewer main. Just get “flights” at the local airport, and voila! the community is connected to the world.

This is completely irresponsible. Not sure what planet they are on. We’ll do a solar map check on Friday.

Then, Threaten Those Airlines That Don’t Exist: Protects Service to Small Airports.”

With this “protection” they are dishonestly implying that some carriers have arbitrarily dropped EAS markets, and in the future, once awarded, airlines will be prohibited from getting out of a contract, regardless. We’ll talk on Friday about just how this ought to have their fantasy “variety” of airlines just come a-runnin’ to get snared into EAS contracts like this.

Total Ignorance: It Funds Needed Service Improvements for Small Airports.”

Seems that these senators have stumbled across the “Small Community Air Service Development Program” and are telling us that it brings air service to, well, small communities. They are completely ignorant. Today, the SCASD program is almost totally useless, particularly for what anyone awake and sober would define as a “small community.”

They probably don’t know that the SCASD program over the past 10 years has done virtually nothing – nothing – for the truly small communities these politicians think will be beneficiaries of a peanut award budget of $20 million.

To be clear, the SCASD program has been great and beneficial for airports that are not actually serving anything vaguely close to being a “small community.” Albany, Spokane, Sarasota are examples. But it’s been a dud in attracting true lasting connectivity to legitimately rural and small airports. Reason: the SCASD program is based on appalling misconceptions of the economics and structure of today’s air transportation.

But, see, the name is “Small Community Air Service” and that’s as far as the numbskull staffers in Senator Snort’s office went in their research.

Join Us This Friday For Facts. In summary, what these proud bipartisan politicians are proposing just panders and misleads the nation from seeking future solutions.

What the nation needs is an honest and complete program that recognizes that scheduled air service is a lot more than a couple of departures at the local airport. ‘Course, this type of dishonest legislation will probably go into effect. But it’s critical that honest folks in aviation are not misled that it’s a solution.

Join Bill and I on Friday – bookmark the link and take a look at our channel by clicking here.

Monday Insight – June 26, 2023

Electric Aviation.
Becoming A Victim of Hype?

McKinsey just came out with a glowing report on the future of “regional air mobility” that’s being made possible primarily via introduction of small electric aircraft.

Sounds wonderful. Intra-regional air transportation will be coming back, is the message. Not a lot of research on actual demand volume. Great assumptions, though.

But there’s a bigger story between the lines that airport planners need to consider before changing Master Plans to accommodate what’s been mostly unquestioned hype about RAM and AAM modalities.

Before we start, let’s look back. Aviation has been here before. There have been a couple of past concepts that were absolutely guaranteed to fundamentally change aviation. Not many folks questioned the dogma of their huge future success.

A Sure Thing: Four Seat Jets For $850K. Anybody remember the concept of the “very light jet?”  Lots of excitement. Really disruptive stuff. It was a genre of 4-6 seat aircraft where new manufacturing systems could deliver them for under a million dollars. Compared to existing turboprops priced at least four times that much, these VLJs would revolutionize general aviation.

There was the Eclipse Jet. There was Adam Aircraft. We worked at various project levels involving both of these companies. Exciting. There were new uses of carbon fiber. New manufacturing techniques like “stir welding” and other magic. Big name billionaires were involved. Hundreds of sales were predicted.

Oops. The one major advantage of these machines was price. And as things progressed prices went up to the point of erasing most of the demand for these VLJs. The glowing me-too predictions were empty air. No telling if the billionaires got financially hosed.

Huge Volume Concentrated On One Airplane. Remember the Airbus A380? The concept was that a 500-seat airliner was a future slam-dunk. There were glowing stories about how it would change air transportation, including throw-away assertions in places like the Wall Street Journal that all major airlines would be ordering the super-jumbo.

In the mid-1990s, large airports were modifying long-term facility plans to accommodate the certain inclusion of hundreds of these behemoths into global fleets.

And here we are today. A great airplane but dismal demand. The special gates and ramps and taxiways modified for A380s weren’t needed.

Missed in the game plan were issues like airport facilities, changes in consumer trends, and the low diversity of mission capability for an airliner that large. It was all ignored in the enthusiasm of seeing a big new airplane.

Lesson: When it comes to the projections of thousands of electric aircraft, airport planning will need a lot more data before investing big dollars into AAM-related operations.

In particular, it was two things that took down the circus tent for these supposed sure-thing aviation miracles.

One was completely misjudging the market role and market need. The second was raw costs. The financial investment didn’t make as much sense as the (unquestioned) hype promised.

Anybody see the similarities with electric air taxis and small airliners?

AAM & RAM. Following The Same Path? Okay, let’s move to today, and consider the concepts of “regional air mobility” and “advanced air mobility.” Very exciting. In some cases, even the most enthusiastic proponents of these concepts have missed several huge corollary leaps in enhancing efficiency of existing aviation infrastructure.

But Don’t Ask Questions. Increasingly, however, any factors, issues or questions that may throw a bit of rain on this parade are not just ignored, but even misconstrued to be advantages. McKinsey’s glowing article on the wondrous future of regional air mobility unfortunately is in that genre.

They included the following illustration, ostensibly as support for the concept. Actually, it does the opposite. Consider these “hassle factors”and ask if they represent just “factors” or “reality.”

Please note that cost comparisons are not considered in this analysis. That might be a critical issue, at least in this world, but ignored here. That is a theme that could be the quicksand under these rosy projections.

Nevertheless, McKinsey has accurately isolated these factors. But they are not “hassle factors” that can be addressed. Take a look.

Every one of these dynamics where a car is shown to have the advantage are concrete factors that can’t be changed. How about “schedule flexibility.” This is intrinsic to the fact that an air trip cannot be as time-flexible as a road trip. Therefore the limited travel options of air can result in that modality unable to compete on a total travel time basis.

Price? Cost of providing this RAM concept. Somebody please come to the surface on this one. The manufacturers of these air taxis, much less McKinsey, have no hard projections of what the ticket prices will be. We do have the recent data from Tecnam, which indicated that battery costs would result in astronomical operating costs.

Actually, what I read from this is that the concept is vastly inferior to current ground transportation. (It also assumes without any support that there is huge latent demand for air service between points 150 miles and less apart. Facts not in evidence, by the way.)

Clearly, the illustration says that RAM isn’t consumer-superior to other modes. The entire foundation of the McKinsey article says the opposite, and they are not alone in this mindset.

Not Allowed: Questions About Battery Supply & Environmental Damage. And, as with the entire electric aircraft concept, nobody – and we do mean nobody – dares bring up the battery issue.

I will – again.

What will be the supply chains? Will China continue to control the industry? What increases will there be in costs of lithium, cobalt and nickel when (if?) current mining processes are transformed away from being environmental disasters often manned by near-slave labor. How about post-use disposal of these devices?

In light of these unknowns, nobody can predict the operational costs. We do know that one potential manufacturer, Tecnam, has pulled the plug on their program. We do know that NASA’s X-57 aircraft – apparently ready to go – has been cancelled due to what NASA described as safety issues.

Amid all the sunshine stories, these tough questions are never addressed. Pesky things that spoil the narrative, apparently.

Kick Out The Flower Children. Bring In Research Looking For Better Technology. Here’s the point. The entire AAM concept has been hijacked by dreamers, environmental jihadists without a clue, large corporations expecting a bonanza, and unfortunately by wishful-thinking “conclusions-before-data” research.

That was the M.O. with the VLJ and A380. It starts with the rosy conclusions  and assumes that reality will bend to accommodate them. Plus, most of the media – including the aviation media – tend to get stuck in a loop that precludes any hard questions and becomes a race to produce the next sunshine story. Think not? Do a search and you’ll be hard pressed to find stories where any tough questions are posed.

This is not to imply there are not huge potential benefits, at least on paper.

But unless these issues are addressed, in ten years we may be looking back at AAM as being like the VLJ fiasco, except the economic wreckage will be geometric dimensions larger.

Think about it.


FAA-Re-Authorization Seminar
Now At Aviation Unscripted

A reminder that an in-depth and no-holds-barred review of proposed FAA Re-Authorization bills is now posted at our video channel, Aviation Unscripted.

It is important that leaders in aviation question and analyze what Congress – populated by politicians, not aviation experts – are intending to impose on the industry. Simply being good followers leaves a vacuum that should not be filled by Congressional wish lists.

Bill Swelbar and I put it all out in the open. There are some parts of these bills that are outright useless and in some cases damaging to the future of aviation.

It is not a veneer pass, but an independent analysis with hard conclusions and firm suggestions that aviation leaders must consider.

Click here to access the video. Then hit the contact button and let loose with your thoughts and conclusions.

Take a stand. Letting Congress go unquestioned isn’t good business sense.