Flight Blog

Apr 30 2010 Old Terminal Changes BY adminTAGS Misc.


The old passenger terminal, which has sat empty for nearly year, is coming back to life. This week construction crews for Expedia began extensive interior renovations. When they're done, Expedia will use about two-thirds of the building. The Internet travel company leased part of the terminal in February and plans to move in later this year. The old place looks kind of creepy right now...it ought to look a lot better when the construction is done.

The first photo shows the north end of the old terminal lobby. The ticket counters used to be along that wall on the right.

The second photo show walls being torn out walls near the gate side restaurant.


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Before reading this blog entry, be sure to read the accompanying entries, Cameroon Monkeys and Leaky Windshields , Misperception #1: Airport Uses City Tax Money, Misperception #2: Airport Sets and Controls Ticket Prices, Misperception #3: The Airport Can Order Airlines to Fly Wherever We Want! , and Misperception #4: New Terminal Wasn't Needed...

"The airport is too small to land "big" airplanes!"

I got a renewed taste of this charge a couple of weeks ago while doing a call-in radio talk show. Fellow called in and said the new terminal was a waste of money...should have been spent building new runways so big airplanes could land in Springfield.

For the record, the runways at this airport are long enough to land any airplane under certain conditions. Runway 14/32 is 8000 feet long and runway 2/20 is 7000 feet. These runways are long enough to handle any plane under typical flight conditions for this airport. Let me explain...

The need for 10,000+ foot runways is generally driven by international flights on wide-body commercial jets (like the Boeing 747). Those flights are typically fully loaded with passengers, baggage and filled-to-the-brim fuel tanks. With all that weight they need 10,000+ feet to take-off. The same airplane, on a domestic route, wouldn't be nearly as heavy and could easily use our runways.

I think the only airplane we've ever been concerned about is the Antonov An-225. It's the largest plane in the world. Built in the Ukraine in the late 1980's, there's only one in existence and it's used to haul cargo. A couple of years ago there was talk that the Antonov would ferry Army helicopters to the repair depot in Springfield. A fully loaded Antonov would find 8,000 feet a bit spare! Apparently plans changed because the Antonov never showed up.

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Before reading this blog entry, be sure to read the accompanying entries, Cameroon Monkeys and Leaky Windshields , Misperception #1: Airport Uses City Tax Money, Misperception #2: Airport Sets and Controls Ticket Prices, and Misperception #3: The Airport Can Order Airlines to Fly Wherever We Want!

"The new terminal wasn’t needed and it's a huge waste of tax money!"

This misperception is wielded like a weapon. The accuser stands tall, spinning the ball and chain above their head while saying, “I don’t like the new terminal and you’re wasting my tax dollars!”

Well, first of all, the new terminal wasn’t built with tax money. The total cost of project was $117 million.  $97 million of that total will be paid off with airport revenue—that’s money that the airport generates. The remaining $20 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The money that the FAA distributes comes mainly from fees on airline tickets, aviation fuel and cargo shipments.

As for need….

People who say the terminal wasn’t needed almost always put it in this context: “The new terminal wasn’t needed because the old terminal was never crowded.”

There are several points to make, here’s the first: you don’t build transportation facilities for down times, you build them for peak times. Here’s another way of putting it...

The state highway department is currently spending several million dollars to improve the horribly congested intersection of highways 60 and 65 in Springfield. Suppose it’s four years ago, before construction began, and you’re driving your car through the intersection at 3:00 in the morning. You look around and say to yourself, “Why do they want to spend all that money on this intersection? There’s no traffic out here!"

New terminal critics use the same sort of logic. They went out to the old terminal during a lull and decided a new terminal wasn’t needed.

The old terminal was built in 1964 and was added on to at least five times. Over the years it served well, but by 2005 it had reached its limits—especially in its abilities to handle security, plane parking, and passenger numbers.

Expanding the old terminal was given lots of thought, but a study concluded that it would actually be cheaper to build a new one. Why? The old terminal is landlocked. Major industry sits to the east. Taxiways and runways sit to the west. Expanding to the south and north would have robbed the private aviation community of space and would end up making the terminal longer (from north to south) and less functional.

These are difficult concepts to explain—not because they can’t be understood, but because they are out of sight and unknown to airport customers and the general public.

The old terminal lobby: March 18, 2008
The old terminal lobby: March 18, 2008. That line you see was the line for security screening. It was nearly a 30 minute wait, and reached nearly to the north lobby entrance.


You had to be out there, behind the scenes, standing on the tarmac, witnessing aircraft operations at six in the morning, to see that the old terminal was not up to the task. You had to stand in the baggage screening rooms, watching security screeners do their vital work in cramped conditions, while the sheer volume of baggage grew from year to year. You had to witness the staggering passenger growth and watch ticket counter lines snake out the front door. You had to see the parked airplanes waiting for a turn to use the loading gates at six in the morning. 

Here’s the bottom line: the old terminal was at the end of it’s life span; it was functionally obsolete. The new terminal will serve us well until the mid 21-century. In the transportation business you have to look to the future and act now. If you don’t, you’re criticized later for doing nothing.


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Before reading this blog entry, be sure to read the accompanying entries, Cameroon Monkeys and Leaky Windshields , Misperception #1: Airport Uses City Tax Money, and Misperception #2: Airport Sets and Controls Ticket Prices.

Based on the email we get, a significant minority believe that an airport can order service from the airlines a la carte. If that doesn’t work, the thinking goes, we demand the service and the airlines comply.

Here’s how it really works…

An airline is a private business. Private businesses do what they want. We can plead. We can tell them that this is a wonderful place to live and work and that we deserve their service. We can offer them breaks on landing fees and money for advertising. We can fall on our knees and beg. But in the final analysis there’s only one thing that matters: does the airline think it can sell enough seats in the market, at the price that it wants, to make the service worth its while?

There are other airline considerations. Does the city wanting the service fit well into the airline’s network? “Network” refers to the different routes the airline flies and how those routes connect to one another via the airline's hub airports. What sort of revenue quality does the city offer? Here’s a simple example of revenue quality: can the airline fill every seat in a 50-seat airplane and charge $100 a seat…or can it fill the same airplane to 60 percent capacity and charge $250 a seat? The plane that’s 60 percent full has better revenue quality. Airline math gets even more complicated…

Here are some other airline revenue measurements:

  • Revenue passenger miles
  • Available seat miles
  • Average stage length

Airlines also want to know about the area:

  • What’s the per capita income in the metro area? The ten county region?
  • What’s the effective buying income of the metro area? The region?
  • How fast is the area population growing? The region?
  • What are the major sectors of the local economy?

I imagine there are quite a few questions on this subject—ask away!


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Before reading this blog entry, be sure to read the accompanying entries, " Cameroon Monkeys and Leaky Windshields ." and "Misperception #1: "Airport Uses City Tax Money."

The airport controls and sets ticket prices! When we face this charge it's usually within the context of a comment like, 'ticket prices are "outrageous" and it's the airport's fault!'

We tell people ticket prices are set by the airlines, not the airport. They come back with, "Whoever is in charge of this should be fired. Don't tell me it is the airlines fault. They have to raise prices because your airport charges so much for fuel and space for them to park the planes.

Wake up!"

That's a real quote. Here's how it really works...

Airlines set ticket prices, not airports. And this airport doesn't sell fuel to the commercial airlines. Each airline has its own contract with the oil company.

As for fees we charge airlines, landing fees are currently $1.18 per 1,000 pounds. Exclusive use space (offices, ticket counters) has an annual rent of $40.69 per square foot. Joint use space (ramp, gates, tug areas, runways, etc.) is figured out using a formula based on an airline's market share. When you add up these costs, and figure the averages, here's what you come up with: the Springfield airport charges airlines $4.77 for each passenger that gets on a plane. In the jargon of the industry, this is called, "cost per enplanement."

Enplanement costs vary. In places like San Francisco and Pittsburgh, it's over $13. Moody's Investors Services says the median airport enplanement cost in the United States is $6.25. So here's the takeaway-our airport charges are below the median-so low that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had told us that we ought to raise them. The rates do go up at a pre-programmed rate of three percent a year (covering the average rate of inflation), but we have respectfully told the FAA that we have no intention of making large rate adjustments. We strongly feel that low rates are one of the reasons why we have such good air service for a small market.

All of this leads to the obvious question: if the airport doesn't control ticket prices, and if it isn't charging the airlines outlandish rates, why are prices higher here? (I challenge the basic premise of that question, but more on that it a minute...)

Some don't like the answer, but here it is: we're a small market airport. Ticket prices tend to be higher in small markets and cheaper in larger markets. Remember the economics law of supply and demand? The larger the supply of seats, the cheaper the price; the smaller the supply of seats, the higher the price. Airports like Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis have a larger supply of seats than we do. There are other economic factors at work, such as lack of competition, but supply and demand is a large part of the equation.

As for the basic premise of the question...

Those who think it always cost more to fly from Springfield are living in the past. It was true 10-15 years ago, but these days it frequently cost less, or the same, when compared to Tulsa, St. Louis or Kansas City. I recently heard from a would-be-customer who talked about having to drive to Tulsa to fly to Las Vegas. He had compared the cost of American Airlines from Springfield to Las Vegas, to the cost of Southwest Airlines from Tulsa to Las Vegas.

Our conversation went something like this... "Have you heard of Allegiant Air?" I asked. "No, and don't try to change the subject..." He started ranting. I continued. "I'm going to the Allegiant web site right now. Let's see, here's a $39 one-way fare from Springfield to Las Vegas. And if you return on Wednesday that's a one-way fare of $79. That's a total base fare of $118." There was silence on the other end for what seemed an eternity. Finally, "oh."

The persistent misinformation about airport charges and fares has been frustratingly difficult to stamp out thanks in part to the local media's willingness to parrot it, and in some cases, lie about it. Case in point...

A couple of years ago Journal Broadcast Group allowed an employee to get on the air and deliver this lie: "There are several airlines that are already very upset-several might be over stating it-but more than one-and are considering pulling out of Springfield, because of this new terminal...jets will have to taxi further to get to it and will spend at least $100 per flight in extra fuel because they'll have to taxi further."

The line had been crossed from misinformation to disinformation—it was pure fiction, and, we had hoped, a tale that had run its course. Then last Monday, déjà vu. The Springfield News-Leader resurrected the disinformation, and lent it credence, through its nameless web page critics:

"It was estimated before the terminal was built that the new terminal location would add approx. $100 in fuel cost to each flight vs. the old terminal."

It's a sad commentary on the state of American media when rumor, innuendo and lies are presented as "fact." We live in an age where "information" is abundant, but knowledge is in short supply.

If you hear a whopper about the airport, please set the record straight. Disinformation is destructive-not only to the airport-but to Democracy in general.

Climbing off the soapbox now...


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