Monday Insight – October 31, 2022

The Effects of The Pilot Shortage: Part Real.
For Small Communities, A Lot Mirage.

It’s the staple headline in just about every story regarding loss of scheduled flights at a local small airport.

“Pilot shortage blamed for cancellation of air service.”

Or something like that. And it is in many cases completely misleading, because it is only one symptom of the raw, unescapable economics of an evolving air transportation system that are changing where connective network flights can be supported.

Addressing The Symptom. Ignoring The Causes. The inaccurate implication is that if we can train more pilots, these small local community airports (or, in the cases of not so small metro-peripheral communities, like Toledo or Youngstown) will see scheduled service come back with a vengeance.

There are intellectual witch doctors selling this line to many small communities, promising that with patience and a bunch more analyses, studies and speed-date meetings, all will be air service wonderful, by and by.

It won’t.

The issue of pilots is just one of the factors of entirely new and evolving air transportation economics affecting air service at the local airports in rural, small, and metro-peripheral communities.

It’s A Lot Deeper Than Staffing Cockpits. In clear fact, the “pilot shortage” for this sector of air travel is one result of much more fundamental factors, not the least of which are deteriorating economics of smaller airliners (a trend that’s been in motion since code-sharing started to eliminate independent regional airlines three decades ago.) This is also due to shifts in alternative competitive travel options for consumers.

The factors driving air service change are different at every community. But right at the starting gate, the truth is that the costs of air service in many instances are exceeding the revenues that can be generated in many route applications. That’s not a pilot shortage issue.

The travails of the decline in 50-seat jet economics, combined with much higher labor costs (including pilot compensation) are continuing to see the air service tide recede from marginal market flying. And marginal is more than just small communities. It’s also in play in a lot of hub feed markets at larger airports, too.

In a real sense, what we have is an “revenue viability shortage” that in turn is making applications of some resources, including pilots, a no-go item for markets where the traffic horsepower isn’t increasing along with costs of operation.

This is not a drill. This is not a situation that is reversable. Regionalization of air service access – connective air service access – is a continuing trend that is the result of airline industry realities.

The ULCC Placebo. One of the canards and misconceptions that must be stomped out is the belief that without scheduled flights at the local airport, the community will die economically.

That is, on its face, a complete falsehood. It’s even more intellectually disgusting when it’s accessorized with the nonsense that just getting a ULCC will be sufficient to rectify the situation.

ULCCs and network airlines are fundamentally different businesses. The main common factor is that both use airliners.

ULCC flights are great, but they represent a completely different product, one that’s galaxies away from connective air service access. Their product is in most cases offering low-fare access to vacation destinations, in the effort to divert and capture local discretionary spend.

In no cases, do these companies offer connectivity to the rest of the nation. That is not their business, and any entity that purports to represent that three weekly flights to Sanford is the equivalent of network carrier access, or that it will attract local business investment, is selling dangerous and dishonest snake-oil.

Economic Growth Is The Future. With Or Without Scheduled Flights. Today, demographics and business migration trends are pointing well for small communities in the USA. Changes in logistics and in communication channels are leveling the playing field for small communities to attract new business, and not having air service isn’t a deal killer to get that 50-job business to move in from Chicago.

Local airports are a key factor in this new reality – or can be, if they want to. Dust off that ALP and take a look through the lens of advantages compared to places in the nation where things are, well, descending into social fantasy land. Businesses and population want out.

Interested in moving to the future level of airport economic development? Send us an email.

Let your competition wallow on, focused on air service programs aimed at recovering the 1980s.

Instead, we’ll focus on the new economics of the 21st century.

Monday Insight – October 24, 2022

Small Community “Commercial Service” –
A Term That’s Undefined & Mis-Understood

For those who receive Boyd Group International’s weekly Touch & Go aviation update, this past week we pointed out one very hard fact facing the US air transportation system. One that has been completely ignored in all the din about pilot shortages and loss of small community access.

Airline fleet changes are shifting where air service can be supported. And where it cannot be supported.

That Market Study Is Useless If There’s No Airplanes. Increasingly, raw economics are eliminating the airliners that have any earthly chance of supporting connective air service at small communities. Like, fewer and fewer flying machines that can make any money or ROI. Those have gone away, and there are more that will be flying into the desert in 2023.

Needed: A More Direct & Honest Air Service Bedside Manner. Let’s be really clear. A lot of small communities are prime targets for intellectual confidence schemes.

It’s quite the process. There are aviation “advisors” who’ll urge communities to toss all the community money possible into revenue guarantees. Then form a civic task force and feed it enough flashy but inconsequential data as possible to keep the mojo flowing. Don’t forget the jive-time “catchment area” studies, promising a Moses-like march back to the local airport when air service returns. And don’t forget the leakage analyses, which are great placebo presentations for the next city council meeting. Just give the airlines this stuff, including at speed date events with pinata-selected airline meetings, and air service salvation is at hand.

There are a number of communities that could get an undergrad degree in this process, with no air service results.

But one clear analysis of the airline industry would end this charade in its tracks. A review of emerging airline fleets and strategies. The fact is that for connective network air service, increasingly there aren’t any airplanes.

Let’s wake up and smell the fleet mixes. It started in the 1980s, with the demise of 15-seat, 19-seat, 30-35 seat, and most recently 50-70 seat turboprops. Now, that march of economic realities is hitting the existing fleets of 50-seat jets – CRJ200s & ERJ145s. Without going into a lot of details, these airliners are facing massively escalating costs which just 50 seats aft of the cockpit door have increasing difficulty to support.

In fact, the entire segment of the airline industry from which major airlines lease-in these airliners (misnamed “regional airlines”) appears to be having its entire raison d’etre – the ability to fly with lower labor costs- ripped out. We covered this in the latest Touch & Go insight letter.

A Quick Sniff at Fleet Reality. All the king’s horses and all the community’s “market studies” won’t put this air service Humpty Dumpty together again. The airliners and the economic factors that allowed a lot of small communities to have scheduled flights at the local airport are now scrambled into history.

The 50-seat jets are being retired for economic reasons. Today, the only small jet in production that can fit under existing major airline pilot union scope clauses is the Embraer E175. It has economy seats wider than a 737, adequate overhead bin space, and a passenger experience that is compatible with mainline airliners. Indeed, the original feasibility reviews for this platform was to be a replacement for smaller mainline airliners such as the DC-9-10 and the F-100.

That is great. But with 76 seats it raises the bar in regard to being able to support the numbers of passengers that can be generated at a small community’s local airport. In many cases, that bar is out of reach.

The point here is that some small communities are getting hornswoggled into shelling out for ASD schemes before anybody asks the first primary question: Is there an airline with the fleet and costs and strategy that would be even vaguely interested?

For attracting scheduled flights, particularly at currently unserved small community local airports, here’s the answer: their likely are none. The aircraft now operated, and the economic factors don’t work anymore.

Anybody Ask The Flying Public? Another factor that many of these Pied Piper programs ignore is the consumer. Yup, the consumer.  The service that could – if possible – be supported at the local airport is almost never analyzed in regard to other consumer options that may be available. Or even if the contemplated service, say two flights a day, would be of material interest among consumers as a viable travel option. Read: cost, time-travel convenience, and vulnerability of off-schedule operations are things that will affect whether the local service is utilized.

The ULCC Option. The growth of the ULCC segment – which is essentially in a different air transportation system than major airline systems – is in fact a potential target for a lot of small communities.

In effect, these airlines provide an additional discretionary spend option for the community, offering low-cost, high-value leisure travel. But the model is not after filling air service “needs” but instead generating net-new traffic based on chasing discretionary dollars in the community.

That bar for recruiting flights is going up as well. However, a lot of communities are misled into thinking that since it’s “commercial service” it will do wonders to attract new business to the community. Face it. Having three weekly flights to Fort Myers is great, but it’s not air access. By itself, it won’t move the needle in getting more industrial investment into town.

The “Regional Airline” Industry Is Gone, By the Way. Along these lines, Boyd Group International has completed a brief and concise review of the changes that have taken place in the airline industry since the advent of code-sharing started the process of eliminating what was once an independent “regional airline” industry. We are sending it to our clients, and non-clients can order for $150 by a simple request on our contact page.

Bottom Line: Consider Regionalization. There are no magic bullets to address this. The hard fact is that the cost, raw economics, and communication value of air transportation have all changed. These are not factors that civic pride will fix.

Key futurist point: Rethink the economic potential of rural communities and local airports.

As BGI has pointed out to clients and at various venues, the vast changes in electronic communication have substantially leveled the playing field for small communities v large metro areas in attractiveness for investment.

Yes, air access is part, but a part with declining importance (conveniently) due to the ability to do business electronically. Mr. Nakamura no longer has to spend 30 hours traveling from Yokohama to meet with his staff at the Altoona facility. It works the other way, too.

Plus, in the din and smoke and mirrors of chasing ASD programs, some small communities are ignoring the new emerging trends in logistics and in lifestyle values in America. Think: which community has higher lifestyle values, Billings or San Francisco? Williamsport or Pomona? Johnstown or New York City?

Do a media search, or just watch the 6PM Ken-and-Barbie news to get an idea.

There’s a lot more opportunities for rural communities that traditional thinking allows.


The Touch & Go Newsletter

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Monday Insight – October 17, 2022

Before We Start…

The Pilot Shortage – The Real Story

Enough hype and smoke regarding the effects of the “pilot shortage.”  It’s real, but it’s totally different in foundation and effects than is being discussed in the media. So, clear and mark your calendar for 12 Noon Mountain Time on Thursday October 2oth.

And log on to our Aviation Unscripted video site for a special Vox Deorum session with Captain Dennis Tajer, Communications Chair of the Allied Pilots Association, representing cockpit crews at American Airlines.

This will be a clear, concise discussion of the technical and operational issues facing airlines today in regard to staffing flights. We won’t be talking about union issues, or about the bargaining table. Just the issues surrounding the facts regarding what airlines are facing in this tough environment.

Clear 30 minutes – it will be worth the time to get facts that aren’t being covered in the media. Knowing how this came about and how airlines are working to address it is the subject of this Vox Deorum session.

The Aviation Unscripted Channel is reached by clicking here.

See you then!


The Aviation System Was Attacked.
Not Just A Couple Websites

We just had a security attack on USA airports.

To read the news, it was no big deal, just the hacking of the eye-candy websites of 14 airports, reportedly by some Russian-located cyber-vandals.

The attackers went after all sizes of airports, from Colorado Springs to Atlanta Hartsfield International. The message – missed by most of the supposed experts at the top of Homeland Security (if there are any left) – was that the vulnerability is completely across the aviation spectrum. No place is out of reach. LaGuardia or Kirksville are easy targets.

Also missed is that this represented an attack on the USA aviation system, not just a couple of websites. Sure, maybe half a dozen consumers who wanted to contact the lost and found at Des Moines were inconvenienced, but the message was that next time, it could be a lot more damaging.

Warnings Were Received Before 9/11, Too. For months before the attack on 9/11/2001, there were clear warnings about the failures of AVSEC – including the possibility of multiple hijackings at Boston. The Bush Administration ignored them. Worse, it took no remedial action after 9/11 in regard to the political creatures who allowed this to happen.

We just were made clear that there are threats right now, today. The open question for every airport in the nation is now whether the facility is sufficiently hardened against future attacks and mayhem, both cyber and physical.

Everything is in play – and probably the least vulnerable are passenger screening points. Air cargo, construction, catering, maintenance, HVAC systems, supply provision, etc. – could a terrorist get things through? Thinking like a terrorist is the key. DHS is thinking like reactive politicians.

The situation at the Department of Homeland Security does not lend much comfort to this situation. The DHS itself has been politically hijacked. Wake up and smell the rot – the recent attempts to have a special “disinformation” thought police within the department should have caused massive outrage for anyone familiar with history at fun places like, say Communist China or Nazi Germany. Think differently from the regime and there will be a price to pay. It is what they were planning to establish. Chilling.

Then the performance of the person in charge of the DHS in reporting on events on the southern border (read: outright lying) is another indicator. This is not the security A-Team by a long shot.

Point: anybody who writes this cyber attack off as just a minor event is sadly and dangerously mistaken.

Unfortunately, that includes the seat warmers at the top of the DHS.

Airports and aviation entities: the warning has been given. The security ball is in your court.


Monday Insight – October 10, 2022

Monday Insight
Is Paused For the USA National Holiday.

In the meantime, check out the latest Aviation Unscripted video just posted. It covers areas every airport, community and aviation company needs to consider – now. Unlike 9/11 and the arrival of the CCP-Wuhan pandemic, this time we have advance warning of major market shifts on the horizon.

The recession is here, the full effects on air travel and aviation are not yet in play.

Anticipating the further shifts, it and the increasing effects of inflation & recession demands futurist thinking.

Click on the icon and let us know your thoughts – then give us a call to discuss how we can identify and isolate both challenges and potential being brought on by the evolving economic issues.

Monday Insight – October 3, 2022

The Post-Ian Florida Vulnerability –
The Impulse Capacity Bubble Just Got Punctured

For several Florida airports, hurricane Ian just accelerated entry to the New Year. The hit to air traffic demand expected in the 1Q 2023 due to a declining economy is likely already started.

The combination of inflation, recession, and now the aftermath of hurricane Ian is likely to partially or in some cases materially deflate the bubble of impulse travel capacity generated to key points in Florida in the 2020-2021 period.

Relying on data from our friends at Cirium, we accomplished a quick comparison of the capacity changes at non-hubsite airports outside of the Panhandle (read: ex-Miami) between the full year ending in September 2019 and the same period ending September 2020.

The data illuminates a clear view of the fundamental changes in the air traffic foundation in the state.

While the actual total capacity was almost the same (down only about 1% in the current period compared to pre-CCP pandemic numbers) the destinational mix changed completely.

In effect, the traffic today is far more dependent on the ULCC expansions at secondary airports than any consistent organic growth across the state.

It has been ULCC increases – aimed at impulse travel, not organic demand – that has been the story over the last two years in Florida. Indeed, it’s a geographic and airline-determined story.

In short, Florida was a refuge for ULCC airline capacity in the 2020-2022 period, which also took advantage of what was pent-up travel demand in the post CCP-Covid period. (We’d note that MLB is an outlier in that it has attracted some international service that somewhat skews its data.) The traditional Florida markets continue to experience significantly lower capacity compared to 2019.

Airline Strategies Will Be The Window To 2023. What needs to be fully understood is that it’s airline strategies that are in play. The five airports which were the recipients of massive increases in low-fare capacity were beneficiaries of internal and independent airline-specific strategies, as opposed to having been deluged with massive landfill-destined “true market studies” from the airports involved.

This means it will be airline strategic decisions regarding capacity, competitive issues and fleet changes that will be the determinants of the future enplanement levels at these airports. However, as discretionary dollars are increasingly vaporized by inflation, it is the airports in green that are most likely to experience the most severe declines in traffic demand to fill the seats added in the last 18 months.

The other airports may well be affected by the recession, but they do not have any substantial or vulnerable excess impulse air service capacity.

The Near-Term Picture. The initial effects of Hurricane Ian will be substantial traffic hits in October and November, as tourism venues and other infrastructure are restored. But this is likely only going to advance the calendar for enplanement reductions as the recession deepens in the 1Q of 2023, and federal programs increase inflation during the same period. (Regardless of nonsense doggerel coming from inside the Washington Beltway.)

The prognosis for the airports in green is likely initial Ian-driven schedule reductions that will be very slow to be restored, if at all, in the latter part of 2023.

Short-Term Recession Forecast & Airline Trend Projections. The coming year will be one of enormous shifts in airline strategies. Boyd Group International is accomplishing.  recession-focused airport trend and enplanement forecasts for key clients. It will be a very different 2023 from what was expected just six months ago.

Get prepared. Hit the Contact button and send us an email to start the conversation specific to your airport.



Monday Insight – September 26, 2022

The Fantasy Is Over. ASD Is Out.
Now, It’s Airport Economic Development

When there is change, there is confusion and situations ripe for consumers to be taken for a ride by folks selling snake oil.

When it comes to air service access, that’s where we are today. Lotsa promises for bringing back or recruiting new air service, even when any rational person could see it’s mostly smoke, mirrors, and consultant contracts for up to six figures.

Confidence men have been around for centuries, bilking unsuspecting victims by promising things that in the hard light of reality are bogus. The idea is to find “marks” that want something so much that they can easily be misled into scams that make the confidence player wealthy.

Keep The Fear & False Hope Flowing. They know that to keep a scam going, it’s critical to keep potential victims in the dark regarding the facts of the situation. So, they always appear as the “expert with the solution.” They always assure that the “mark” thinks the confidence game will bring in success, money, or … in the latest case for small communities, air service. Then, give them a list of past air service recruitment miracles, some of which the airlines involved might not remember, and the game is on.

It is unfortunate that a lot of communities have fallen into this trap.

Delta: We’re Not Coming Back to Where We Lose Money. Last week, the hard light of truth once again was seen. It’s hard truth that another “leakage study” won’t cover up.

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, clearly stated that some places where Delta has dropped service won’t be added back. He made clear that there will be others that the airline may simply drop. The increased costs and declining economics of small airliner operations – read 50-seaters – are the reasons, and they cannot be reversed.

We’ve seen it already with Delta dropping CID-DTW, FWA-DTW, MLI-MSP and a few others. It’s not the “pilot shortage,” which is the quick-fix pablum that is being spouted by the RAA and others. It’s the escalation of the raw economics of pilots, aircraft and resources that once made such feed markets viable.

It’s also the changes in the role of air transportation in the milieu of evolving communication channels. In many cases, other modalities – mostly electronic – have eliminated the need for one-on-one physical contact. It’s the reason that short-haul business markets have evaporated. It’s the reason that the once-robust regional airline industry – small airlines with their own geographic route systems – is now gone.

It’s the reason that the many projects to restore intra-regional commuter air service have been total failures. Tried or discussed in South Dakota, Indiana, California, Idaho, and other places. Failed – and in most recent attempts the writing was on the wall from the start. Scheduled air service is just that – scheduled. If that schedule doesn’t fit the time-travel needs of a large number of consumers, it offers no real value. Again, it’s a fact that’s been proven time and again. But most air service “advisors” don’t want that to be well known.

Review of Competitive Air Access Options Are Not a Part of The Confidence Game. The major misconception is that if there is no service at the local airport, the community is cut off from the world. Sort of like losing air service is akin to losing running water. Yet, the advances in other communication modalities now make small communities a lot more economically-competitive to attract business, and the cancellation of two 50-seaters doesn’t change that.

Also missed in most media stories is that in many cases, the consumer has already made the decision.

In the case of Toledo – lately the poster-child for articles on small community air service – they’ve shifted to using Detroit – an hour or less away, with over 300 daily flights, many nonstop to major destinations. The inconvenience of the two to four departures from TOL to connect at ORD or CLT or wherever was the deal-killer. And that won’t change, regardless of any number of studies, surveys, analyses or other voodoo. The Toledo market has excellent air access. This is the case with many of the communities that no longer have scheduled flights at the local airport.

The Future: Go After Businesses Yearning to Be Free of Woke Regulations. However, the economic future of small communities in the heartland of America is bright. Air service or not, the new communication systems have leveled the business development playing field between Midtown Manhattan and Manhattan, Kansas.

The future for all smaller communities – with or without air service – is in capitalizing on the increasing migration of businesses from regions of the nation devastated by bad economic planning. That includes the value of the local airport.

Nobody awake and sober would want to invest in a business or factory in California, or Oregon or Washington. But lots want out. The quality of life in places like Northwest Ohio, or the Rio Grande Valley, or rural Pennsylvania is far better than what’s in California, where criminals are immediately released on no bail and shoplifting under $1,000 isn’t prosecuted.

The warnings from Ed Bastian, and the obvious trends in the economics of air transportation are great directional indicators for the economic development plans of small and rural communities.

Interested in exploring this further? Give us a call. We’re into futurist planning.

Not trying to bring back the 1980s.



Monday Insight – September 19, 2022

When Truth & Accuracy Are Politically Smothered…

It’s usually okay to let really stupid and ignorant comments from ill-informed pandering politicians just slide.

But not this time.


“The United States of America, not one airport ranks in the top 25 in the world. What in the hell is the matter with us? It means commerce. It means income. It means security. And we don’t even rank in the top 25. Not one single airport.”

This throw-away comment, uttered by the guy in the White House, has now been taken up as a rallying cry by much of the aviation media, each suddenly trying to outdo the other to validate just how bad the airport system really is.

It must be, because a guy with a long and verified track record of making, well, inaccurate statements said so.

The Next Big 6PM Topic.  Now, before last week, none of them seemed to recognize the new cause celebre that’s sooo trendy because of a few unsubstantiated and undefined comments made at a carefully-controlled press event.

There were until now no big articles on “airport overcrowding” or lack of technology, or whatnot. No discussions of how we have a security problem by not being in the not-to-be-defined metric of the “top 25.” Zero definition of that term, but it’s the new rallying cry.

Nope, it’s all reporting about how “Biden is taking on America’s outdated airport system.” How, shock! America’s airports aren’t even in the top 25! How it’s the new woke subject about America’s decline.

Funny, we haven’t seen a definition yet of what comprises the “top 25” he’s blustering about and which a lot of the supposed aviation media experts are now parroting.

Funny, nobody – and that means nobody – has even had the ethical guts to point out that this guy has a track record of saying things that simply aren’t factual, or even to try to find out what he is babbling about. For heaven’s sake, don’t look into that. It will spoil the narrative.

At least now we have an answer to the issue of “what’s the matter with us?”

It’s a total pandemic of cowardice in a lot of the veneer media to actually ask questions that might run counter to the latest dogma coming from inside the Beltway.

This veneer pronouncement about our airport system is a political stunt without any attempt to back it up. In short, he was reading from a crib sheet. Can’t get around that – the undefined “top 25” comment is the leper’s bell of somebody who’s totally ignorant of the subject matter.

The Propaganda Machine Is In Overtime. But help is on the way. Watch this week as “source” after “source” – and we are likely including major networks – publishes articles illuminating the aspects of our collapsing airport system.

There will be comparisons with Istanbul and Singapore – illuminating shiny objects to “prove” comments made by a guy that in normal cases they would blow off as having no credibility whatsoever. Then the damning evidence that the only new US airports built in the last 20 years was at a small community in Utah, and one in the Dakotas, with the unstated intent to show we need more airports, with no validation.

But, let’s be honest. They gotta support the new narrative, see.

…Okay, sorry if this discussion of a cheap ignorant comment made by a politician offends anybody.

Truth can do that.

The ball is now in AAAE and ACI’s court.


Monday Insight – September 12, 2022

Before We Start:
Remembering 9/11
Let’s Do It Honestly, Without Political Correctness…

It’s now 21 years. Naturally, time to remember those who lost their lives that day, and the possibly thousands more first responders who lost their health.

But what is very troubling is that nobody seems to care about remembering what allowed this to take place. Nobody in the veneer media sunshine coverage dares to discuss the outrage of what made 9/11 possible, and how there was zero follow-up with the incompetents who were in charge of aviation security before 9/11. The official media position is that all has been fixed. Which, based on events over the past 20 years, is a blatant, provable lie. This denigrates the value of the lives lost that morning.

In point of fact, most of the media has flat ignored these facts:

  • That the FAA security heads were warned by FAA Red Team investigators of the potential for multiple hijackings at Boston Logan four months before 9/11;
  • That prior to 9/11, Red Team FAA security inspectors were repeatedly hampered by FAA management in attempting to test security checkpoints.
  • That there was major push-back when Red Team investigators proposed changes;
  • That after 9/11 – mere days when the wreckage was still smoldering in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania and the bodies of 3,000 terrorist victims were still being found, George W. Bush publicly thanked the FAA for their “hard work.”
  • That after the biggest security failure since Pearl Harbor, not one single individual in positions of responsibility was reprimanded. To the contrary, most were promoted. The people who had warned about 9/11 were tossed out. Or worse. One of the pre-9/11 whistle-blowers was literally followed around and hounded by the FAA, reduced to putting binders together and his career ruined.

Yes, we now have a gigantic Transportation Security Administration. In fact, it was mostly started by a lot of the same people responsible for the security failures of 9/11. The open question is whether we fixed the political cesspool that allowed 9/11 in the first place.

One talking head network correspondent – a total toady for whatever the TSA feeds him – once pronounced that the success of the TSA is proven by the fact we haven’t had another major terrorist attack.

He could have made the same point on 9/10/01, too.


The USA Airport System In The Crosshairs:
DOT Still Planning For The 1970s

Bottom Line: The USA airport system – arguably the best in the world, and on which billions have been spent – is now in line for operational and economic decline.

Policies Intentionally Ignoring New Aviation Dynamics. The value of the USA airport system is predicated on how it will evolve to accommodate aviation’s new channels of communication. That requires futurist thinking and strong leadership. Unfortunately both of these imperatives have deteriorated into obsolete policies that bear little resemblance to the needs and the new dynamics of aviation.

Monkey Wrench Approaches In A Digital World. Let’s cut to the politically-incorrect bottom line. In a future global economy, where changes in consumer patterns, demographic migrations and new logistics channels are emerging, the DOT is still geared to pursuing metrics that are based on the past, wasting taxpayer dollars, misleading communities, pandering to misguided special interests, and tossing dollars at programs that are in many cases the equivalent of buying vacuum tubes for a nation already using flat screen TV sets.

The Master Plan System. Let’s start with this. The FAA requirements for each airport to have a Master Plan is at its core very a solid way of monitoring and administering the airport system. From that perspective, it is a sound concept.

The problem is that many of the metrics demanded in Master Plans simply do not make any sense for today’s system of smaller airports. Nor does the current approach even begin to contemplate major shifts in technology that will affect the value of the airport system. The assumption is that the aviation industry today is the same as in 1960.

By and large, the current approach fails to recognize shifts in how airports are utilized and by what modalities of aviation. The requirement to be within “ X% “of the FAA’s Terminal Area Forecast, for example, is increasingly nonsense because the TAF methodology is on another planet from aviation reality.

Obsolete Air Service Incentive Programs. One of the most obvious failures of the current system is the assumption that commercial air service is akin to what rail access was in the 1870s.

Back then, if the railroad skipped the town, the likelihood was that the community was economically dead. That’s still the basis of the policy thinking in regard to small community air service. It’s bogus and wastes millions annually supporting flights consumers find inferior to other options.

The difference is that today, consumers have a vibrant road system that – even if the local small airport has scheduled flights – they often have other, far more viable options at other airports. Yet this dynamic – superior competitive consumer options – is almost never (no, let’s be clear: never) considered.

It’s the same with the objectives of today’s EAS and Small Community  Air Service Development Grant programs. Both assume that having service at the local airport is paramount to economic growth, which is nonsense. The key is having air service access to and from the rest of the globe.

Today, the structure of the air transportation system has evolved to the point that the DOT cannot even meet its own requirements. Witness the award of EAS to Eau Claire… At the end of the day, there were no applications that met the department’s service requirements. So, Sun Country Airlines with day-of-week service to a couple of leisure destinations got the award. That is great for Sun Country, and gives Eau Claire another discretionary spend item. But it doesn’t do diddly to connect EAU to the world. Those consumers – I.e., ones that need to get to or from the rest of the world – are on the highway to MSP. Most of the people boarding the SY flights are net-new travelers faced with a high-value leisure product.

Then there’s the Small Community Air Service Development Grant Program. While it is a fact that the program has been beneficial in a number of cases, it has also started to run out of viable applications. The latest example is Avelo entering Binghamton, presumably to take advantage of a recent SCASD grant. It will offer two flights a week to two Florida destinations. Great for Avelo, and another spend alternative for Broome County. but learly, this is not consistent with the alleged need to get Binghamton re-connected with the air transportation.

The Fix Will Threaten A Whole Set of Entrenched Rice Bowls. Fixing this means taking a lot of entrenched interests. Some don’t want the hear the truth. Others want to cover it up to keep their sugar-daddy programs flowing.

The DOT. To be clear, the folks at the DOT are essentially captive to the current system, and are doing what they can do, within the guidelines and policies they are directed to follow.

Any major moves to revise EAS or other mechanisms that may affect service in the district of Representative Ira T. Snortbluster will lead to very complicated interactions. Unfortunately, since the people at the top of the DOT are political appointees – usually the ones at the very top with zero expertise in transportation – it’s politics that win the day. And viable air access planning loses.

Community Civic Leaders. Take a look at some of the media stories regarding loss of scheduled service at a number of small airports in the last six months, It is understandable that Hizonner the Mayor has an out-of-body episode. It’s not strange that the city council and the CofC get up in arms when a carrier leaves town.

The issue here is that these folks often are not well-informed on the economics of air service, and as a result tend to hit the civic warpath to get it back, instead of first analyzing the situation and the future. They tend to just want action to get those flights back. Even if it wasn’t being used much. Even if there are no airlines – network, ULCC or third-tier – interested.

The starting point assumption is that there are “other airlines” that they can approach for service. Skyhook Airlines, usually. Taking advantage of this is the key goal of the Pied Piper contingent, noted below. Make very sure that the facts are at least muddled, if not covered up completely.

The core needs here for the civic sector are a) educate regarding air service economics, and b) full understanding of air access alternatives that local consumers have at hand, and c) the integrity of pursuing options that may not entail scheduled service at the local airport.

The Pied Piper Contingent. We need not list the communities which over the years have been regaled with enough “market studies” or “leakage analyses” or bogus “catchment area” analyses to over-fill the entire fiction section at Barnes & Noble. All promising to find an air service cure.

A fundamental part of this is to assure the community that they’ve really delivered the air service bacon for other clients. A recent one is to claim being instrumental in Southwest entering new markets in 2020. A call to the airline might reveal that the 18 new markets WN entered were mainly the result of internal corporate strategies, and not the latest 60-page market study emailed into the planning department.

Economic Development Commissions. Traditionally, as far as traditional EDC-related business goes, what happens at the local airport stays at the local airport. But the fact is that in the new global logistics economy, and within the anti-business dynamics taking place in some regions of the nation, airports represent huge future opportunities for economic growth.

The point here is that the USA needs a complete re-think of airport and aviation policies to take advantage of the future. There are dozens of futurist airports run by futurist administrations. The problem is that the regulatory framework and Luddite political thinking inside the Beltway has them blocked.

Maybe it’s time to call it like it is.

Got Thoughts or Comments?

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Monday Update – September 5, 2022

US Labor Day Edition

In recognition of the Labor Day Holiday, we’ll be back next week with a complete Update. Lots of things to discuss, including the expected decline in capacity at key areas in the 4th quarter.

Also Next Week:

Get Ready For Some Heresy.
Truth, But It’s Coming This Fall.

One will be the recent DeFacto permanent lock-in of a fundamental “pilot shortage” affecting network-airline service access cuts at small and mid-size airports. “Lock-in” because there has been a permanent and almost snap change to the labor costs that won’t revert.

When base compensation at small lift lessors like Mesa go up over 100% for Captains, and nearly 200% for first officers, these silly veneer media articles implying that loss of small community air service is just a body count issue are stripped bare of any factual value.

Communities need to shift their economic growth focus. Regardless, all the king’s horses and all the boilerplate consultant studies won’t put this air transportation Humpty-Dumpty back together.

Log on next Monday.


In The Meantime, 

Click below and check out the latest Boyd+Swelbar Unvarnished video. 

Prognostications and projections that illuminate the future. Invest the time, and while there subscribe to get future updates.



Monday Insight – August 29, 2020

Following Up: JetBlue/Spirit

All Quiet On The Merger Front?

It is still amazing that so many folks are assuming that the primary goal of B6 is to acquire the route system of Spirit.

Might just as well go after Amtrak, too.

The two systems are entirely different. From a revenue combination point of view, it’s akin to trying to connect a standard-gauge railroad with a narrow gauge one. Not a lot of smooth fit.

Now, it could have the potential, as Bill Swelbar points out, of being the start of an IAG-type conglomerate, where two very different airlines are managed from the top by one team. Possible. But another option is simply for B6 to have the pilots and planes it needs to expand with less of the time and brain damage of more organic options.

This was pretty clearly not a deal sparked by JetBlue wanting to capture a mostly different air travel clientele and a route system somewhere out in the boondocks from their own.

The DOT Viper May Be Coiling For A Strike. In any event, the politicians running the DOT are eager to generate great consumer headlines to woo the public away from above-the-fold stuff like inflation, recession and other things.

So, it is not out of the question that the small-town mayor in charge may come out swinging, denouncing the merger and posturing it as yet another airline industry move to zap consumers with fewer options, higher fares, and more stupid rules only to be explained by a contract call center where “Let’s Learn English” was the occupants’ main TV show. Lots of drama. Not much in the way of real substance in regard to any actual downsides of the B6 asset buy.

It could be as dumb as the idiotic DOJ attempt to stop the US/AA merger. Nothing like raw screen shots of web pages as hard proof, and total misinformation regarding effect on fares and the consumer. It would have been a hoot if it had gone to litigation instead of being dropped.

For airports, it needs be stated that there is the potential for one ULCC – Spirit – to disappear. Or at least not expand for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t change the fact that B6 has the opportunity to use these assets to build a larger operation.

Question What’s Reported. Some of the traditional media is out in the swamp, too. The Wall Street Journal, increasingly in recent years a long way from the brightest lamp in the airline expertise chandelier, has reported that B6 should have gone after Alaska. Missed the entire story.

As has often been the case, the WSJ is assuming the past, not the future. Futurist thinking not in evidence.


Air Wisconsin. The Vendor Shifts Customers
– Just When The Cost Bar Hits Warp Drive

Over the last 30 years, Air Wisconsin has leased small lift to United, American, US Airways.

Now it’s back to American.

The potential of AA now adding back 50-seat service to smaller cities dropped from their ORD hub is a staple in some aviation media sources. Not necessarily.

Okay, let’s wake up and small the duty rigs. Or, more accurately, new pilot compensation. It doesn’t generate much comfort for small communities yearning for the return of major airline brand service.

More Costs – Completely. AA just jacked up Piedmont pilot pay by a reported 20% plus. CommutAir did so in some cases by over 60%. Mesa just announced they will have the highest paid pilots in the (misnamed) “regional” industry.

Get the message. Small community air service with 50-seaters is fixin’ to no longer be supported by lower than market wages for pilots. Mechanic/technicians are next. The skills to overhaul a fuel control valve are the same whether it gets installed on a PT-6 or a CF-6. Inside the cabin, safely managing an aircraft evacuation on a ERJ-145 is as critical as on a 737. Read: flight attendant costs are sure to start skyward.

Here’s the bottom line. The capacity floor inside major airline brands has gone from 19 seats in the mid-1980s to a coming 65-76 seats with the pulldown of major numbers of 50-seaters over the next 18-24 months.

The raw economics will not change.

With New Fleets – Which Continue To Evolve, That Catchment Area Study Is Useless. Airports across the nation need to pursue new approaches to maximizing economic impact. Air service access is part of that but doing a lot more market studies that completely ignore airline fleets isn’t going to work, anymore.

If your community wants to move into the next dimension of airport strategic planning, give us a call.

We’re taking our clients beyond yesterday’s discredited approaches to airport planning.


Check Out The Latest Aviation Unscripted Report Video.
In Just Seven Minutes,
The Fleet Picture As It Affects Future Planning

Alaska is parking the last of its Q400 turboprops this fall. That’s the end of the turboprop era at major airline systems.

They join J-31/41s, EMB-120s, Casa 212s, ATR-42s, Beech 99s and 1900s, Metro IIIs, Shorts 330/360s – all of which once were parts of branded major airline fleets – in the history books. Along with this the economics of serving the local airport at small – and sometimes a little bigger – airports have ended any potential for connective air service.

As what happened a few years ago when Alaska retired their Q200s, there will be major shifts in regard to air access in the Northwest. The only replacement is the E175, and that points to several current markets that simply cannot support more than one daily flight into Alaska’s Seattle hub with the E175s that are the capacity floor now at Alaska.

Regardless of the snake oil that some consultants will be eagerly slopping out to desperate communities, there are no alternative options for SEA access, and not many more for alternative access to United’s hubsites at Denver, SFO or LAX.

There is no easy solution.  The raw economics of air transportation have spoken. It’s time for small communities to belly up to the reality bar and explore the new future business options for their airports.

Click here and log on to the industry’s emerging source of futurist planning insight. This week, we’re covering the genesis of this fleet trend and outlining what communities can do to move into the future. Seven minutes of core information that other sources are not even aware of.

And while your’re there, hit the subscribe button to get notifications of future Unscripteds, too.

Then give us a call for next-future airport planning assistance. We work with our clients on bringing on the future. Not the past.