Flight Blog

 

Joe has a question in response to the Flying Fibs post:

"Thanks for posting this. I actually flew last Friday, on the Allegiant flight of Las Vegas, and let me tell you, the pilot was getting hot after the tug spinning his wheels on push back, the deicing truck getting stuck on the ice. Once the deicer got to our plane, it did take longer than the “10 minutes” the pilot said it would, however, the plane had sat for 2 hours between flights. Most of the passengers sitting on the left side of the plane, including my wife, really expressed their displeasure watching the two American Eagle planes push back after us, get deiced, and leave before us! Just curious, does American have their own deicing crews/trucks? All in all, another pleasant experience flying from SGF."

Yes, American has its own de-icing crews/truck. Based on what you've described, I suspect the issue with the Allegiant de-icing was the shear size of the plane. Remember, those American jets you saw being pushed back are considerably smaller than the MD80 jet that Allegiant uses. The MD-80 is a lot heavier.  That probably explains why the tug was having traction problems, while the American tugs were doing just fine. It's also possible that the American tugs had a cleaner ramp surface (less snow and ice on the pavement). As for the Allegiant de-icing truck getting stuck, that's one of those problems that make airport winter operations such a drag!

Vinnie watched the news last night and saw the story about our airport's growth in 2009. He has a question:

"I caught the end of the segment about the state of the airport on the 9pm Fox local news. They mentioned something about Southwest Airlines flying to one destination three times a day and carrying 100,000 passengers. I thought that Southwest didn’t look at destinations with less than 1,000,000 in their metro. I assume that this comment was a hypothetical about what it would take for Southwest to come to town and why it isn’t a possibility, but I was hoping you could clear this up. Thanks."

Well, I didn't see that newscast, but I think I know what was going on. Airport director Gary Cyr was asked why Southwest doesn't operate in Springfield. When he gets that question, he usually responds by telling people how many passengers Southwest would want to carry in the market over a year's time. It goes something like this: "Southwest would want to have five flights a day, with the goal of filling a 130 seat aircraft to at least 80% capacity."  In order to generate that many passengers, you need a metro area with a million people. Make sense?

Chris has a question about the announcement yesterday of Frontier service to the airport south Branson:

"How did Branson get Frontier Airlines to fly to Denver? On top of that its a much bigger plane than United offers. An A320."

Well, first of all I don't think the service is going to be on an Airbus A320.  The Frontier press release says it's on a E190. That's a smaller jet, made by Embraer, that typically seats 80.

How did Branson get Frontier? We don't know exactly, and neither that airport or Frontier is going to tell you.  We do know that the service is being subsidized, in some form or fashion, by the airport.  In other words, the airline is being paid to provide the service by the airport.  Frontier would never fly in there on its own dime because they're isn't enough natural demand for the service to make it financially viable.

It's also possible that somebody besides the airport is helping subsidize the service. The airport and Express Jet have approached numerous small city airports and have asked those airports to pony up money for service. Rockford, Illinois is one example. I'm not suggesting that the Denver airport is paying up. You can be certain that it is not. I'm just making the point that there could be money coming to Frontier from more than one entity.

 


 

It’s good news in hard times—our airport is the only major airport in the region to finish 2009 with positive passenger growth. We posted a four percent increase in total passengers, when compared to the year before. The growth came despite an 11 percent cut in the airport’s 2009 flight schedule. Similar cuts occurred at airports across the country. As a whole, the nation’s airports experienced approximately a 6% decline in passengers.

The news gets better. Our aviation analyst, Michael Boyd, is forecasting that 2010 will bring us a 2.8% increase in passengers. He expects a 3.2% decline for the nation as a whole.

What gives? Why are we doing so well? There are several reasons; we can't point to any one thing:

  • Low fares. In the fourth quarter of 2008 airlines began lowering fares in response to poor sales. The low fare trend continued through 2009.
  • The airport’s new passenger terminal. The impact of the new terminal is hard to quantify, but there’s no doubt that the building’s “wow” factor, along with its ease of use have helped draw more customers to the airport.
  • New terminal advertising and media attention in the first and second quarters raised public airport awareness of the airport.
  • Allegiant Air growth. In 2009 the low fare airline grew its passenger numbers 42 percent in the Springfield-Branson market.
  • The new airport south of Branson. When that airport had service to Dallas, American airlines, in Springfield, matched Branson’s fare. Bottom line: the Branson airport created airline competition.
  • The relative strength of the Southwest Missouri economy, compared to other regions of the country.

There's more good news–we just got this data in today:  the average fare from the Springfield-Branson airport was down 27.5% in the third quarter of 2009. That's compared to the same quarter in 2008. Here's the dollar translation: the average fare went from $288.18 to $208.72.

So, while our  2010 forecast is good, and fares are going down, be warned: things could go south in a hurry. The price of oil could spike. That would cause fares to go through the roof. The apparent economic recovery could sputter. A terrorist attack could cause demand to plummet.

So it’s good news for now, but these are uncertain times...

 


Jan 29 2010 Flying Fibs BY sgf-adminTAGS How the Airport Works

 

image of snowflake The blast of winter weather we’re having today makes it the perfect time to talk about winter weather and how airports and airlines deal with it. Winter weather isn’t fun at airports. Some of the reasons are obvious, others not so much.

This story has needed telling for sometime, but telling it didn’t seem worth the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would likely ensue from a certain corporate airline office. Now, the time is right because the airline you’re about to read about is defunct. It’s been absorbed by Delta. Yes, that’s right; this story is about Northwest Airlines. 

Before we continue, you need to know something about us. Airport staff takes pride in keeping the airport open during winter weather. We can’t remember a time when the airport was closed due to runway and taxiway conditions. When the frozen stuff flies, a fleet of airport snowplows and snowblowers hit the pavement. You get the idea; we take snow removal seriously.

So, it was a particularly irritating snow day, a couple of winters ago, when the phone rang and it was a reporter from the News-Leader. “Why is the airport closed?” It wasn’t a question––it was an accusation. “It isn’t,” I replied. There was a pause on the other end. “Well, we have a reporter who’s at the Memphis airport and they’re telling him that the Springfield airport is closed!”

Not again. This was at least the second winter in a row that fibs had flown from the Northwest ticket counter in Memphis. The Memphis to Springfield flight was canceled. When customers asked why, they were told, “The Springfield airport is closed.” The hidden message was always clear: those hicks at the little old Springfield airport don’t know how to deal with winter weather. Customers nearly always believed it. And sometimes they would call us, demanding to know what our problem was. This was the first time that a reporter had called. I assured the reporter that the airport was open and that just ten minutes ago I had witnessed the landing of an American Airlines jet. She didn’t believe me…demanded to talk to someone else. I told her that she ought to come to the airport and see for herself. She declined and the conversation ended. The alleged closing never showed up in print, so she apparently believed me.

That same wintry week a Springfield resident called. “I’m at the Northwest ticket counter in Memphis and they’re telling me that the Springfield airport is closed. What’s the problem?” He was mad. You could hear the racket of the Memphis airport in the background. I assured him that our airport was open and described airport conditions: the runways were clear and planes were landing and taking off. On the other end there was an exasperated sigh. He sighed again and said, “Unbelievable!” 

But wait, it gets better.

The past three years we’ve had a lot of ice in Southwest Missouri. Remember that humdinger ice storm we had in 2007? There’s a story that could be told about that storm, but the involved airline is still in business, so let’s move on to the next ice event.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as 2007. For two nights in a row the Springfield area got ice. Not enough to bring down power lines, or cause much of a problem on the runways, but it was heck on airplanes. Any plane that spent the night in Springfield had a thick coating of ice on it in the morning. Before it could take off, the ice had to be removed with de-icing fluid.

Well, guess what? Northwest had two planes in Springfield that sat on the ramp for two consecutive nights without de-icing. They sat there because the airline had canceled those flights for two days in a row. By the third morning there was more than an inch of ice covering the planes. At this point, Northwest decided it wanted to de-ice them. Problem was, there wasn’t enough de-icing fluid on hand to remove that much ice from two airplanes. There was enough on hand to handle normal de-icing operations, but not enough to squander on two airplanes that been left untreated for two consecutive nights. We told the airline no––it couldn’t use up all the de-icing fluid and leave the other airlines out in the cold.

In return at least one employee, at the Northwest counter in Springfield, told customers that the airport had run out of de-icing fluid. That’s why the flights, that were supposed to be handled by those two ice-laden airplanes, were canceled. The phone rang for a couple for days. “How could the airport be irresponsible enough to run out of de-icing fluid?” To this day, there are people who firmly believe that the Springfield airport ran out.

What gives—why cancel flights when the airport is open? There are several reasons, and they don’t just apply to the defunct airline: 1) weather conditions at connecting airports, 2) sometimes airlines cancel flights to avoid the high cost of winter operations, 3) ice build-up on a plane may prevent takeoff, even when airport is open, and 4) sometimes airlines preemptively cancel flights because they expect bad winter weather. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the airlines, and their pilots, make judgment calls. After looking at all available data, they conclude that flying in winter weather isn’t worth the risk. This is a judgment that none of us can question––airlines should always err on the side of caution.

That being said, if an airline employee tells you that our airport is closed, call their bluff. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for canceling a flight. There’s no reason to lie to a customer, or to sully the reputation of the airport. Don’t let the fibs fly.

-KB

 


Jan 15 2010 Eureka! Lines on a Map! BY sgf-adminTAGS Midfield Terminal

 

Finally. 

The Internet map sites are starting to show signs of the new terminal and the new roads that go with it!

Pardon my enthusiasm, but this issue has been a sizable headache around here ever since the new terminal opened last May. Web sites such, as Google Maps and MapQuest, have  been giving people bad directions to the airport. They've been sending people to the old terminal. They still are, but now, at least, the sites are showing the new terminal's road system!

The new roads are showing up on Google Earth (but not Google Maps) and on MapQuest. Click on the image to see a blow-up of the Google Earth imagery. I added the gold star; it marks the new terminal location. Now it's a matter of the satellite imagery catching up with the map data, along with the "directions" data. We've been told that the entire catch-up process could take as long as two years...

 


 

We received an email from Tim this morning:

 

"I travel 2-3 weeks of each month. The new SGF airport is very nice and I am very glad to see the advantages of a comfortable place to fly in/out of the SGF area. My daughter flies 3-4 times per year to Mexico for school, employment and leisure; I fly 24-30 times per year with work; my wife and I fly 3-4 times for vacation.  I find it very frustrating that flights from XNA (NW Arkansas Regional Airport) are consistently less than from SGF.  I do realize Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, etc. create an advantage with the XNA area, but SGF has a larger metropolitan population than the Fayetteville/Rogers/Bentonville area. XNA offers flights to EWR, CLT, LGA, DTW, MSP and CVG that SGF does not currently offer (some of which have been eliminated in the past 12-18 months).  With these additional destinations, XNA has a greater advantage monetarily and convenience-wise than SGF. What can be done to add these additional destinations/departures from SGF to be more competitive in fares?"

 

Tim, it all boils down to numbers. Let’s begin with population. The most recent population estimate puts the Fayetteville MSA at: 443,000. The most recent population estimate puts the Springfield MSA at: 426,000. And then there’s per capita income—ultimately it’s more important than MSA population. Fayetteville MSA per capita income: $32,400. Springfield MSA per capita income: $30,104. Bottom line: there are more people in the Fayetteville MSA and they have more money to spend.

 

At first blush, the differences between these numbers may seem insignificant. But in the hair-splitting world of airline revenue sheets, they make all the difference. And when you add in the business traveler impact of Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and JB Hunt…well…that’s why XNA has the service it has.

 

As for fares, we don’t hear nearly as much about this as we used to. In fact, a study commissioned in 2008 showed that SGF fares were slightly lower. The data below reflects the first and second quarter of 2008: Of course, this data is two years old. And we’ve never claimed that fares are always lower at SGF. On average, though, we will claim that SGF and XNA fares are roughly equal.

 

There are no magic bullets out there that will bring more service and lower fares to SGF. Ultimately, airport growth is a reflection of the Springfield MSA: as the MSA grows, the airport grows. More people means more demand. More demand means more service. More service means a bigger supply of seats. The greater the supply of seats, the lower the fare.

 

It really is all about numbers.