Flight Blog

Jun 04 2009 Plane Watching BY adminTAGS Midfield Terminal

 

For several years now people have lamented the passing of what was an age-old pastime: watching airplanes at the airport.

 

What changed was security--particularly after 9-11. As security got tighter it became more and more difficult for the public to see airplanes. That's all changed at our new terminal.

 

Don't get us wrong...security is still plenty tight! But on both the east and west sides of the new terminal, the public can stand under covered walk-ways and see planes galore. They can see them land and they can see them taxi and park at the terminal.

 

As each day passes, more and more people show-up to watch. Come on out, the view is good. The photo shows the view from the west side of the new terminal

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Earlier this week a letter came to our offices accusing the airport of spending $14-million for a taxi stand. You know, a taxi stand—that place on the street where taxi cabs line up waiting for customers. The writer was furious. We don’t blame them.

 

There’s just one problem. We’re not building a $14-million taxi stand. It’s a taxiway. You know, a taxiway—one of those paths that connect ramps, terminals and other airport facilities. Airplanes use them to move from one facility to the other. This misunderstanding is understandable. What’s less understandable is what’s going to happen in the next week or two.

 

The bad information will be repeated and repeated. It will pass from one water fountain to another. Before long it becomes “truth”. Media outlets may pick it up and run with it. It's frustrating—but we digress. Let’s get back to that taxiway.

 

The airport will receive $14.8 million of federal stimulus money to build a new taxiway that runs parallel to runway 14/32 (click on the airport map to see a bigger version. The new taxiway is designated “whiskey.” The runways are in black. The taxiways and ramps are in gray). It will be 6,000 feet long and 75 feet wide. In order for it to withstand the weight of large jets, it will have concrete that’s 15 inches deep, with a sub-base that’s over a foot deep. That's as thick, or thicker, than new interstate highways.

 

Why build it? It’s a safety issue. Right now planes leaving the terminal have to cross the mid-point of runway14/32 in order to get to that runway’s northwest end. The taxiway will run parallel to the runway and will eliminate the need for crossing the runway. When you eliminate the need to cross the runway, you greatly reduce the chance of a ground collision between airplanes. We had planned to build the taxiway in a couple of years, but the stimulus money will help us build it much sooner.

 

That’s the story on the taxiway. Let’s get back to bad information…

 

The taxi stand story stands a good chance of spreading like wildfire. Why? The writer of the letter copied it to a local radio personality who traffics in innuendo and half-truths.

 

We live in an age where “information” is abundant, but knowledge is in short supply. Even traditional media outlets fall victim to the endless cycle of parroting bad information. An editorial page editor recently all but admitted to me that "Rose" and "Thorn" reader letters are not fact checked before they're printed in the paper (it was quite a tap dance). His solution, to correcting the factual errors in question, was for the airport to write a letter setting the record straight. In other words, the airport should help stir the pot further by putting more grist in the paper's chatter mill.

 

Thank you, no.

 

So that's the story on the taxiway. If you hear on good authority that the airport is building a glorified taxi stand, please set the record straight!

 

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After months of decline, our passenger numbers have flat-lined: in March our total passenger numbers were down one percent over the same month last year. In April we had a zero percent change. In normal times (meaning without a recession) being flat is bad. But these days it’s good. Check out the numbers and you’ll see what I mean:

 

Total Passenger Numbers:

 

  • April 2009...............0% change
  • March 2009............-1%
  • February 2009......-15%
  • January 2009........-14%
  • December 2008.......-5%
  • November 2008.....-21%
  • October 2008.........-19%
  • September 2008....-24%
  • August 2008..........-15%
  • July 2008...............-11%
  • June 2008................-9%
  • May 2008...............-16%
  • April 2008..............-13%
  • March 2008..............-1%
  • Feb 2008..................-1%
  • January 2008............7%

So what gives? Is the slide is passenger numbers over? Is the improvement a reflection of a growing economy? The signals are mixed… So far this year enplanements (the number of people getting on an airplane) nation wide are down 11 percent. Airline capacity is down 7 percent nation wide. At the Northwest Arkansas airport April numbers were down 13 percent. Very mixed signals, indeed. Let's look at the April enplanements for the airlines serving Springfield:

 

  • American: -12%
  • Delta: -23%
  • Northwest: -9%
  • United: -10%
  • Allegiant: 40%

That's right, Allegiant numbers were  up 40 percent in April. It’s likely the main line carrier numbers would have declined even further if they hadn’t been offering fire sales. So, bottom line, our passenger numbers are improving…but Allegiant seems to deserve most of the credit.

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May 21 2009 Whew! BY adminTAGS Midfield Terminal

 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of days running together around here—and the move to the new terminal really isn’t over: boxes are still being unpacked, people are still feeling their way around the new environment, and new systems are still being tuned and tweaked. All that said, the dust is settling…and now that my desk is set-up (and cleared-off), it’s time to review the past few months at the airport, and in the industry in general.

 

“Passenger traffic is still falling on nearly all U.S. airlines, but the steep nosedive in March gave way to a more gentle decline in April, raising hopes that the worst of the travel slump may be over.”

 

That’s the lede in a story from the Associated Press last week. It sounds like good news, but the AP goes on to note that industry analysts think the increase in passenger traffic is due to fare sales. Absolutely—airlines are all but giving away some tickets in an effort to sell seats.

 

Don’t believe it? Yesterday, on the reservations page of the airport web site, customers purchased the following:

 

  • Springfield to San Antonio, via Dallas roundtrip, on American. $238.40. Eight months ago I would have expected this trip to cost at least $600—perhaps as high as $1000.
  • Springfield to Dallas, via Memphis, on Northwest, one-way: $95.70.
  • Springfield to Rochester, NY, via Chicago, roundtrip, on American: $330.90.
  • Springfield to Chicago, roundtrip, on American: $216.20.

These prices include taxes and fees.

 

It goes without saying that not all the fares are this low. And I can hear the griping right now from those of you who haven’t found them this low. Want to know one of the secrets of finding them? Purchase early. The fares listed above were purchased at least a month before departure.

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May 06 2009 New Terminal Open BY adminTAGS Midfield Terminal

 

The midfield terminal opened for business this morning. So far, we've had only minor clitches: the ticket spitters in the parking lots (those machines that give you parking stubs) didn't have stubs in them at 4:00 this morning, and the United ticket counter didn't have a sign on it.

 

By six this morning about 50 stray travelers had shown up at the old terminal looking for their plane. Airport police gave them directions and a map to the new terminal.

 

This morning's fog delayed some early departures, but that's par for the course this time of year. More later.

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