Monday Insight – November 22, 2021

Small Community Air Service –
The Solution Is Already Spreading
Ignoring Aviation Realities Just Delays Progress

To address a problem, it first has to be accurately understood. Otherwise, it’s not a “problem” but a confused situation.

That is pretty much where a lot of small and rural communities stand when it comes to scheduled air service. The “problem” is completely mis-diagnosed. Worse, there’s a number of quacks out there peddling “cures” that assure that it continues to be so.

First, we have the media, some of which tends to publish first and learn about the subject matter later.

Last week a business-related website published a tome led by the following shrieking headline:

“Some of the most remote areas in the US are losing an air service link to the rest of the country”

The only thing missing, aside from accuracy, was the exclamation point. Then they outlined the reason…

“With United Airlines’ planned exit from 11 airports across the US, many small communities are at risk of losing air service to the rest of the country.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was flat-out fake news.

Not accurate. Mis-informed. Mis-leading. The main reason is that this outlet is clueless regarding what “air service to the rest of the country” really is. It assumes that no flights at the local airport is essentially isolation from the world. Veneer reporting.

Worse, like all fake news, it sends people on wild goose chases to find “solutions” to the wrong problems. That’s where the quacks come in, offering all manner of studies, “analyses,” surveys and other mechanisms that only obfuscate the real issue: the inexorable change in air service economics and in airline fleet capabilities, much of which are pointing to more access to and from the globe, not less.

The second point is important. The new fleets coming on line will deliver materially better air access than a lot of communities enjoy today… it just won’t necessarily always be at the local airport.

The United announcement is part of this evolution.

Access Is The Value. Not Local Flights. Scheduled air service at the local airport is too often considered about the same as having or not having running water. The truth is that air service quality is measured by access and availability of alternative options, not whether there are a couple of airline flights at the local airport.

Let’s look at the supposed air service disaster the article was referring to, i.e., the routes that United Airlines dropped. To make the point, we’ve included ABI and SJT, where United earlier took a powder, based on the same evolutionary dynamics.

Here’s the point – these moves are part of a much wider set of ongoing economic changes in air transportation economics that are currently in play… changes that will be bringing increased access to many regions across the country. Including most of the ones where these airports are located.

This certainly is not to imply that there aren’t small airports that today are served well below the level of passenger traffic they can generate. But the economic dynamics at other communities are not so – and for the airports in the above graphic, the airline has determined that to be the case.

Quick! Somebody Tell Kalamazoo That It’s Now “Remote” Getting back to sensationalist fake news, let’s start with this. None of the airports where United sent pink slips can be described as among the “most remote” in the U.S. That is clearly inaccurate.

Lansing, the capital of Michigan is not isolated from the rest of the world. It has access in roughly one hour to Grand Rapids, and around 90 minutes from Delta’s global connect hub at Detroit/Metro.

That brings up the time-to-airport issue.

Reality: most of eastern Nassau County on Long Island has at least as long and maybe a longer drive time to get to LGA than the drive between Killeen and Austin Bergstrom International Airport. That is not onerous for most of the communities dropped by United, particularly when that hour drive facilitates a shorter total travel time due to the presence of much higher levels of air service. Plus, all of these United-dropped airports have another carrier.

And all of them, based on the clear statements from the airline, are uneconomic for United. Trying to “lure” another connective network carrier isn’t in the cards. They are facing the same issues as does United, and taking the same actions in adjusting their route systems.

This Evolution Has Been Going On For Decades. Air service economics are evolving, and United’s decisions are part of that evolution. The fact is that 50-seat jets are going away, and there are no flying machines to replace them. This is nothing new – the march of fleet shifts has been in progress for 30 years. ATR-42s are gone. Same with J-41s and S-340s. CRJs and ERJs are just the latest in this evolution.

But folks at LAN and EVV and GRK will continue to fly in and out. What this means is that consolidation and regionalization of air access is the future. People will still be traveling, just not as many from some local community airports.

Actually, that future is already here. For example, it was reported that Killeen believes that something like 90% of consumers in its region are using Austin and IAH. Ignoring the reasons or papering them over with more “studies” won’t change the situation. AUS has air access that is far superior to most of what GRK can support locally.

Driving An Hour – Even Two – Can Be More Time-Effective Than Using Local Service. The consumer has spoken, and has been doing so for the last decade. An hour drive to AUS to get a nonstop to New York or California or Florida, is far superior to shoe-horning an itinerary to match 2-3 departures to a connecting hub. The point is that in many cases, the local airport simply is not consumer-competitive. In some cases, it is. But the majority of air access for Killeen consumers has gravitated to the superior qualitative and quantitative service available at much larger AUS. Not all, but most.

Another exciting core dynamic that is in play is fleet changes. Note: In play…. that means evolving. We have new-mission airliners coming on line, and combined with increased regionalization as 50-seaters are retired, the result will be incredibly better air access for just about all regions of the nation.

Don’t Give Up… Just Accept The Airport’s New Role. Yes, this is a hard thing to accept for some communities. But it’s taking place, regardless of the number of “true market studies” or “leakage analyses” that in any case only measure pre-CCP-Covid traffic, and will do nothing to stop the economic reality of consolidated air service.

Economic Roles For Rural & Small Community Airports Are Expanding. Nevertheless, in many cases there can be a firm role of local air service, even when 90% of the consumer base is driving to that larger airport 90 minutes away.

The point is not to be hornswaggled into believing the trend can be reversed by attending a speed-date event, or another jive market study that has no relationship to the emerging airline industry. Run with the realities, instead of trying to reverse them.

Today, the economic development opportunities at airports such as we’re discussing are frankly huge, what with the changes in aviation support needs with the entry of new technologies and migration of commercial businesses from ineptly-managed large metro areas.

Log On, Spend Seven Minutes & Get New Perspectives. We’ve covered this in the latest Aviation Unscripted™ video. Invest seven minutes and log on.

We name names. Or, at least some airport names. You might be surprised… remember, major demographic shifts are in progress, too.

Take a look… and let us know your thoughts.

Looking For Straight Economic & Air Service Forecast Assistance? Contact BGI.  Yes, the above is not what most consultants might illuminate. But BGI is not like other consultants.

We help our clients prepare for the future, not cling to the past. Airports know we tell the truth about the future.

When we work with clients in air access consulting projects, we’re laser-focused and concentrate on the airline-related factors that will determine air service in the future. Before we take a project, we assure that we are completely aligned with the client and all realities are on the table.

Airports and communities that want to plan for the new future, give us a call. We have the team that can keep you out of the planning quicksand and into the realities that are emerging across aviation.

Hit the contact button above and let’s start moving into the future.


On behalf of all of us at Boyd Group International, we wish everyone a happy and healthy US Thanksgiving holiday!