Flight Blog

 

"The U.S. House will vote on a bill today that would eliminate the Essential Air Service program by 2013 in all states but Alaska and Hawaii."

That news has small cities across the country bracing themselves today. We stay out of politics around here, but today we will make a political prediction: if Essential Air Service funding is eliminated the political fallout will be brutal. Leaders in small cities, both democrat and republican, will assail their federal lawmakers with a vengeance.

Get the small town perspective from the Southeast Missourian. Read more about Essential Air Service here.

 

 

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The New York Times does a good job of summing-up the state of aviation in small town America...

"The country’s network of plentiful regional airports connecting to big hubs was largely built in an era of $30-a-barrel oil. But oil prices are now more than triple that, so maintaining commercial airline service to underperforming airports may be unsustainable."

To be clear, when the story talks about communities completely losing service, it's not talking about airports like Springfield. It's talking about smaller cities — Missouri cities like Joplin, Columbia, Cape Girardeau, Waynesville and Kirksville. Closer to us, there's Harrison, Arkansas. All the airports just mentioned have, or have had, Essential Air Service (EAS).

Our airport does, though, feel some of the pressures described in the story:

"Since airlines typically fly turboprops and 50-seat jets on the routes that connect outlying communities to big hubs, the higher cost of fuel and other expenses gets split among fewer passengers. Airlines are retiring these planes because they are unprofitable as oil prices climb."

For those of you wondering about the size of the airport profiled in the story, in Traverse City, Michigan... In 2009 it ranked 179 in terms of total passengers.

This will give you a feel for the size of the airports talked about here, and in the Times story. This shows each airport's ranking out of the nation's 538 airports with commercial air service in 2009:

  • Springfield-Branson National, Springfield, Missouri: 124
  • Cherry Capital Airport, Traverse City, Michigan: 179
  • Columbia Regional, Columbia, Missouri: 306
  • Waynesville-St. Robert Regional, Forney Field, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri: 453. EAS.
  • Joplin Regional, Joplin, Missouri: 481. EAS.
  • Cape Girardeau Regional, Cape Girardeau Missouri: no service in 2009. Currently has EAS service.
  • Kirksville Regional, Kirksville, Missouri: no service in 2009. Currently has EAS service.
  • Boone County Regional, Harrison, Arkansas: no service in 2009. Currently has EAS service.

 

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Our neighbors in central Missouri are enjoying their new service to Memphis. The Columbia Tribune reports:

 

"A month after more than 100 hopeful onlookers gathered at Columbia Regional Airport on Aug. 19 to celebrate Mesaba Airlines’ first flight from Columbia to Memphis, much of the fanfare is gone, but one thing remains: passengers, and more of them than the airport has had in awhile. During its first 30 days of service, Mesaba took 1,097 passengers to Memphis, which beats the previous carrier’s monthly passenger average by 220 percent."

 

Mesaba uses the Saab 340 on the route. It's a prop driven plane that's typically configured to hold 37 passengers. It will be interesting to see how long this service will last — particularly in light of the weak economy, high fuel prices, and the generally poor health of the Essential Air Service program.

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Bad news for our friends in Joplin...

 

The Joplin Globe reports, "A disruption in commercial air service already was on the horizon for the Joplin Regional Airport, but an announcement Monday seemed to put its scope more in question. City officials disclosed that the airline that recently was awarded the Joplin contract has backed out of the agreement."

 

Air service in Joplin has been subsidized by the federal government under a program called Essential Air Service. Problem is, the airline economy is so bad, even a subsidy won't keep service in many small markets.

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Columbia is getting a new EAS airline. EAS in a federal program that subsidizes air service in small communities. In Missouri it includes Joplin, Columbia, Kirksville and Cape Girardeau. In Arkansas it includes Harrison and several other towns. Without EAS, these places would probably not have any commerical air service.

 

Several months ago Air Midwest said it was leaving many of these markets. Now, we're finding out who will replace them in Columbia. The Columbia Tribune reports that Mesaba Airlines will provide service between Columbia and Memphis—three flight a day.

 

Mesaba is a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines. It's interesting to note that Mesaba is pursuing EAS markets—even in the shadow of the pending merger between Northwest and Delta.

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