Flight Blog

 

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.


 

The arrival of the new year means time is almost up for Northwest Airlines (NWA). While the airline was bought out by Delta more than a year ago, it’s been pretty tough for the average customer to tell any difference: you can still find a NWA Web site. You still see airplanes and tickets branded with the NWA logo. It’s all about to fade away…

 

In the last week of December the feds gave Delta the ‘green light to finish integrating Delta and NWA operations.’ That’s according to the Detroit Free Press. The paper reports that by the end of the first quarter the NWA web site “will stop accepting reservations and redirect people to Delta Air Lines…The Northwest name will disappear from boarding passes, airport monitors and airplanes."

 

The beginning of the year is always a good time for fare sales. Yesterday United announced a fare sale for both domestic and international destinations. The company press release mentioned:

 

  • Chicago – Denver $91
  • San Francisco – Honolulu $239
  • Los Angeles – Tokyo $350
  • Denver – Los Angeles $91
  • Washington Dulles – Orlando $55
  • Chicago – Paris $369

Hard to say how much the sale will benefit customers flying from Springfield. If you’re inclined to find out, you’d better hurry. The sales ends January 12.

 

Fare sale or not, FareCompare.com reports that on December 30, “15,000 United city-pairs were increased by $6 and $10 roundtrip ($3 and $5 each way). The increase covered the bulk of United’s domestic route system — mainly at the $6 roundtrip level. On New Year’s Eve, the remaining legacy airlines began to match including American, Delta/Northwest, US Airways, Continental and Alaska.”

Our friends at Allegiant Air have been busy. Earlier this week news broke that the airline has purchased 18 more airplanes. Read this insightful blog entry over at BNET. More Allegiant news…a company press release reports Allegiant carried 20 percent more passengers in the fourth quarter than it did in the same quarter of 2008. For the year (2009), Allegiant passenger growth was up 24 percent.

 

Finally, we have more good news to report on our airport’s total passenger numbers. In November we were up five percent compared to the same month last year. This means we’re still the only major airport in the region with positive 2009 growth numbers. We expect the December numbers to be positive too. Check out the numbers at other major airports in the central United States:

 

Airport Period Total Pax Numbers, % up or down
     
Oklahoma City Jan-Nov -9.92%
Tulsa Jan-Oct -12.6%
Wichita Jan-Oct -8%
Kansas City Jan-Nov -9.7%
St. Louis Jan-Nov -11.3%
Northwest Arkansas Jan-Nov -6.1%
Little Rock Jan-Nov -6.42%
Omaha Jan-Nov -3.2%
Des Moines Jan-Nov -8%
Quad Cities Jan-Oct -4%
Louisville Estimated for year -11%
Memphis Jan-Nov -2.10%
Lincoln Jan-Nov -12%

 

Numbers were gathered January 5 from airport Web sites and media reports.