Steve wants to know:
"What is Springfield Airport doing to be proactive to do their best to land low cost airlines to the Springfield Airport to minimize competition with Branson?"
Steve is talking about the airport being built in Taney County, south of Branson.
Here's what we're doing, Steve: we’re doing what we’ve always done. We talk to airlines on a regular basis. We share data and aviation studies. We tell them about our ground services program. We tell them about our marketing incentives program and our low airport fees. We tell them about the strength of the air market and how it has grown so much the past 20 years. We continue to do what we’ve done because it has proven so successful. Our passenger numbers have grown 30% since the beginning of the decade. We have five airlines and 12 destination cities—an exceptionally strong showing for a small market airport.
If this strikes you as nothing more than bragging on the past then let me offer this: I’m not very good at blowing smoke. I’ve never been good at excessive “spin” and what I call “happy talk.” We all know what happy talk is. Example: you ask me when we’ll have a low cost airline flying to New York? My response: "we’re hopeful that we’ll have that service soon! We’re talking to airlines right now!" Happy talk is delivered with effusive energy and a big smile on your face.
I don’t do happy talk because people can see through it; they’re tired of spin–they can spot it a mile away (it’s everywhere!); all they want is a straight answer. So here it is… The Springfield-Branson air market is unusually strong for being such a small market. Even so, it is not strong enough or big enough to attract a big low cost airline. The business metrics just aren’t there-especially in today’s plunging airline economy. The metrics weren’t there even when oil cost less than a hundred dollars a barrel. Consider today’s situation:
- AirTran wants to cut employee pay 10 percent to help pay for fuel. More bad Airtran news broke late this afternoon.
- Frontier filed for bankruptcy protection in April; plans to cut jobs and capacity this fall.
- Southwest is raising fares; making substantial changes to its network (meaning that it’s cutting unproductive flights).
- JetBlue announced a hiring freeze in April and is "scaling back growth plans."
- SkyBus went belly-up in April.
Consider this: vacation destinations are seeing reductions in air service. Air service in Las Vegas is down 12 percent. Orlando is down about eight percent. Why would airlines cut service to such cities? Because vacation travelers are low yield traffic—meaning that the airlines don't make much money on them. Airlines (both low-cost and legacy carriers) prefer to concentrate on business travelers. That's where the money is.
Steve also wonders: "How can Branson attract low cost airlines when Springfield can't, especially when their 1st year emplanements are projected at 250,000 - 300,000, with capacity at 750,000?"
It's conceivable that that airport could pay a big airline for limited service—something like the arrangement in Wichita where the city, state and county pay AirTran millions of dollars for service. If you want some entertaining reading on the subject of Wichita, plug this into Google and hit return: "airtran wichita subsides." Don't use my quotation marks. Read a previous posting on the general subject of air service development by clicking here.