Monday Insight – May 1, 2023

Truth. Precisely Spoken, But Not Understood.
The Tough Decisions Facing Small Community Air Access

Summary: It’s Time Reality Was Faced. Small Communities Need To Develop Next-Phase Communication Strategies. Local Air Service Will Not Always Be Consumer-Possible.

Here’s an incredibly informative quote. Between the lines, it illuminates the reasons a lot of small community ASD programs are DOA.

It’s from a recent article, from a civic leader at Wichita Falls, Texas in regard to the local service of two daily American departures to DFW.

“I can’t sit at the airport for seven hours in Dallas waiting to change flights. I can’t make it work. What can we do about it? I hear day after day from companies, ‘Well, we’d like to fly out of here, but we can’t make it work.’”

Here’s the rough but truthful bedside manner answer: if the solution is more local air service, Wichita Falls is out of the picture.

Out. No more. Not happening. We can start with this: the load factor for these flights in January was a rip snorting 32%. For most of 2022, the figure was under 45%. Message to the city fathers: a pink slip may be in the future. The traffic isn’t there. No way that AA would add more frequency. Wake up and smell economic reality, and start planning for the future accordingly.

No Magic Snake Oil. Placebo studies and hand-wringing civic meetings won’t change it. Phone calls to Senator Snort and eager-beaver attendance at speed-date conferences won’t make any difference. A desperate Small Community Air Service Grant application will waste lots of time and money.

The air service cavalry is not coming over the hill to rescue Wichita Falls. Same for several other small communities across the USA, too.

Hint: Communities such as Wichita Falls must now learn about the economic realities of the communication modality called “air service.” It will save a whole lot of political tail-chasing.

What’s going on at Wichita Falls sums up the situation at many smaller airports. They don’t have the traffic horsepower to support more than two or three flights to a major carrier’s connecting hub. That means long total travel-times when connections are factored in.

So, the 2-hour drive to DFW International is often a lot less onerous than shoe-horning a journey to accommodate the two daily departures at Wichita Falls. Not real pleasant, but in most cases, it is consumer-superior to the service that the local airport can support.

The Revenue Requirement Will Only Go Up. Now, with 50-seaters heading out, the fleet distribution of CRJ-700s and E170/175s in the AA system will increasingly be analyzed for highest and best return.

Plus, the operational (including pilot) costs of these airliners are going up. So, our friends at Wichita Falls should indeed be concerned about future air access. The current local service really doesn’t provide high time-efficiency, and there is nothing – zero – that will change this. Toss in the increasing system value of CRJ-700s to American Airlines, and uncertainty is the word of the day. Or worse.

Solution: Suck It In. Get Tough. Address Economic Growth Opportunities. Okay, civic leaders, the fat’s in the fire. The realities cannot be dodged any longer.

The hard economics of air transportation cannot be fudged. Another “market study” or “leakage analysis” from some semi-ethical consultant will only smokescreen the truth: the market cannot support fully competitive network air service.

You can accept this and move on to develop economic growth strategies that accommodate this situation, or just play the part of a latter-day cargo cult, like primitives in the South Pacific hoping flights will return.

Media: Get The Whole Picture & The Facts Before Posting Jive Stories. The subject of small community air service is truly in vogue now, with writers who can’t tell the difference between an airline schedule and a grocery list reporting the “plight” of airports losing scheduled flights.

In most cases, these types of stories only mislead the public into thinking that every local airport should have scheduled flights, lest the community dry up into a ghost town. In most of them currently, they rely on the misleading jive that it is just a matter of not enough pilots.

Sorry, it’s a matter of not enough traffic. What’s missed is that this shrinking small community air service situation has been going on for the past 60 years. As the economics of air transportation have changed, fewer and fewer small communities have had the traffic to keep up.

The Poster Child For Unserved Airports Desperately Seeking Service That Won’t Work. The Wichita Falls situation is one that a whole lot of small communities should look at and, get the message, and clearly understand.

Today, there are more than a couple of unserved small airports tossing heavy gelt at “studies” intended to capture exactly what Wichita Falls has, and which really doesn’t work.

The Future: Taking Advantage of Economic Migration. This is, naturally, a tough pill to swallow. It goes against “the consensus.” But that does not change the facts. In the USA today, there are entire metro regions working hard to make doing business impossible. Then there are the crime issues in some of these regions, too.

That is where the future is for rural communities such as Wichita Falls.

The contrary – but accurate – point here is that regardless of air service, Wichita Falls has a far better quality of life than a number of we-need-not-mention regions of the USA. It is short-sighted and myopic to conclude that not having lots of convenient air service at the local airport is a deal-killer to this type of economic outreach.

The fact is that within the context of the air transportation system, local flights to small community airports will be contracting. But that does not change the other economic advantages communities such as these possess.

The time for whining is over. The time for taking the situation by the horns and moving beyond what cannot be changed is here. Stop with the palliative snake oil. You can no longer support network air service connectivity.

New Air Transportation Concepts? Absolutely, But… There are other air logistics concepts, and we are actively working on them. But as for getting enough air service at Wichita Falls airport to keep consumers from driving to DFW, please join us back here in reality. If only as a tourist.

Questions? Comments? Hot Rocks? Contact Us. We understand this entire discussion is unholy anathema to consensus thinking. That’s why the consensus always gets left behind. At BGI we look to the future, and the future is often a direct threat to the status quo.

Want to discuss further. Contact us! We’ll talk about the future.


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