Flight Blog

August 29, 2014

 

The post Labor Day season begins with an event of some note at our airport: a legacy airline will bring big jet service back to Springfield: barring a schedule change Delta will bring a Boeing 717 here Tuesday evening about 7:45.

 

The event is noteworthy because it likely marks the beginning of the end of regional jet service in Springfield.

 

Regional jets (RJs for short) are those little jets that everyone loves to hate. In our market they generally have 50 seats. They’re cramped. They’re stuffy.

 

Airlines started using RJs in the late 1990s and their use grew into the new century. At their peak they flew over 50% of the nation’s air travelers. Now, airlines are getting rid of RJs as fast as they can …

 

Why the change? In a word: economics. Back in the 1990s RJs were cheaper to fly than bigger jets. Today, it’s the other way around. By some estimates most RJs will be grounded within the next five years.

 

That’s the Big Picture overview of RJs. Now, let’s bring it down to the local level …

 

We expect most RJs to leave this market within the next five years (for all the reasons mentioned above). Having said that, it’s possible that RJs’ will exit this market sooner due to strong demand. The number of people using the Springfield airport is up 12 percent over last year. We believe this strong demand is the main reason Delta is bringing the 717 to the market now.

 

The airline currently has five daily Atlanta flights on 50-seat regional jets. On Tuesday a 717 will serve one of those flights. That means four flights a day on 50-seat planes, and one on a 717, which has 110 seats. The addition of a 717 adds more seats per day to Atlanta. That’s important because the 50-seaters are frequently sold-out. More seats per day means fewer customers turned away.

 

All-in-all, the return of bigger jets is to be applauded … but there is a downside.

 

As more regional jets go away we will likely see a decrease in the numbers of daily flights — with bigger jets it takes fewer flights to move the same number of people …

 

Example: today we have seven flights to Dallas on 50-seat RJs (that’s a total of 350 seats). Having that many flights per day gives travelers a lot of flexibility when it comes to trip planning. Let’s suppose the airline replaces those seven flights with big jets that have 150 seats a piece (that’s a total of 450 seats). That’s right — the airline would need just three flights a day to move the same number of people.

 

Bottom line: there’s an upside and a downside to bigger jets: more comfort vs. number of flights. That’s the tradeoff we’ll face in the next few years.

 

Posted in: Airlines, Delta, How the Airport Works | 0 Comment(s) ››

August 21, 2014

The upward passenger trend continues at our airport …

 

In July total passenger numbers were up 10.8%. That’s compared to the same month last year. Year to date our numbers are up 11.9%.

 

These are the best growth numbers we’ve had since before the Great Recession. They reflect not only an improving Southwest Missouri economy, but an improving national economy as well. Airports across the country are benefiting — let’s take a look at five airports roughly comparable to ours …

 

Statistically speaking, there are five airport markets similar to us in terms of population served, personal income, and per capita personal income. Here they are, along with their percentage change in passenger numbers for the period January-June, 2014:

 

AIRPORT CODE CITY

TOTAL PASSENGERS

Jan - June 2014

SOURCE
       
AVL Ashville, NC +12.5% Link
       
SGF Springfield, MO +12.1% Link
       
CRP Corpus Christi, TX +11.6% Link
       
SHV Shreveport, LA +9% Link
       
EUG Eugene, OR +2.89% Link
       
ROA Roanoke, VA -1% Link

 

These increases come after several years of declining, or flat passenger numbers. And as you can see growth is not confined to Springfield — it’s part of a national growth trend this year. The health of the national economy has a lot to do with it, as does the improved financial health of the airlines. But perhaps most importantly, at least in our market, the airlines have noted our pent up demand — we’ve been telling the airlines for several years that more people would fly from Springfield if only there were more seats.

 

Until now, the “give us more seats” argument has been a tough sell. That’s because the airlines have focused relentlessly on cutting the number of seats in the air (fewer seats in the air means less cost). But now the airlines see our pent up demand and they’re responding accordingly.

 

So far this year the number of airline flights in Springfield is up 3.8. And the number of seats in the market is up 6.4 percent. These increases come after years of negative numbers at airports across the country.  And Delta is bringing bigger planes to our airport …

 

Delta currently has five daily Atlanta flights on 50-seat regional jets. Boeing 717s will serve one of those flights beginning September 2.  That means four flights a day on 50-seat planes, and one on a 717, which has 110 seats. Let’s do some basic airline math …

 

We’ll work off just the Monday-Friday flight schedule …

 

The 717 aircraft brings 60 more seats a day to the market. Multiply that by the number of weekdays left in the year (87) and you get at least an additional 5,220 seats coming to our market. Let’s put it another way …

 

In November Delta will have at least 18% more seats flying between Springfield and Atlanta (when compared to the same month last year). That’s a HUGE increase — and one that promises to keep our growth numbers way up through the end of the year.

 

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June 30, 2014

 

This week a small part piece of airport history bites the proverbial dust.

 

When the red brick building comes tumbling down on Wednesday hardly anyone will notice — except, perhaps, a few airport rescue firefighters. Some of them spent many a long shift in that building — it’s the old airport firehouse.

 

Built sometime in the late 1960’s (and added on to in the 70s) it was a huge step up from the old barrel shaped building it replaced. But as with all things in the airport business is soon became functionally obsolete — by the time it was vacated in 2009 the airport’s newest fire truck wouldn’t even fit through the bay doors. For the past five years it’s collected dust, birds, plus a few pieces of old equipment.
 

The lot occupied by the firehouse will soon be part of the airport’s newest expansion. It’s a $5.6 million project that will redevelop and expand the general aviation complex by making 12 acres ready for new airplane hangars. The general aviation complex (GA for short) is that part of the airport which caters to business/corporate aircraft.

 

This fall, when the expansion project is done, the only trace of the firehouse will be an old emergency alarm siren. It’s one of two sirens at the airport. They sound the alarm whenever an aircraft declares an emergency. The old beast (pictured left) came off the firehouse roof last week — it looks like something out of a 1950s civil defense film. Unlike the old firehouse it still works great — just have to figure out a new place to put it ...
 

Posted in: Airports, History, How the Airport Works | 0 Comment(s) ››

June 12, 2014

 

Passenger numbers at the Springfield Airport are up — way up.

 

In May the total number of passengers using the airport was up 15 percent. That’s the best monthly increase since before the Great Recession.

 

For the first five months of the year the number of passengers using the airport was up 11.7 percent —   it’s only the second time since the turn of the century that Springfield has seen a double digit increase during the five month period. The first time was in 2005 when Allegiant and Delta started Springfield service.

 

The increase in passengers is a classic sign of an improving local economy. The airlines see this demand and they’re responding by bringing more seats to the market. Take a look at the numbers:

 

TOTAL AVAILABLE SEATS IN SPRINGFIELD - MAY 2014

 

  • Allegiant Air + 35.9%
  • American Airlines + 11.1%
  • Delta Air Lines + 3%
  • United Airlines + 3.6%

There are two ways for an airline to bring more seats to Springfield. They can bring more flights — those are up nearly 5 percent for the year — or they can bring bigger airplanes. Allegiant has started occasional use of Boeing 757s in Springfield. Delta begins Boeing 717 service here on September 2.

 
717s will serve Delta’s Springfield-Atlanta route. The airline currently has five daily Atlanta flights on 50-seat regional jets. In September a 717 will serve one of those flights. That means four flights a day on 50-seat planes, and one on a 717, which has 110 seats.
 
The addition of a 717 adds more seats per day to Atlanta. That’s important because the 50-seaters are frequently sold-out. More seats per day means fewer customers turned away.
 
Bigger planes are definitely in Springfield’s future — not just due to local demand but because airlines are starting to phase out 50-seat jets; they’re expensive to maintain and they’re not fuel efficient.
 

PERCENT CHANGE TOTAL PASSENGER

NUMBERS JAN - MAY 2014

 

  • January + 9.2%
  • February + 13.1%
  • March + 9.8%
  • April + 11.4%
  • May + 15%
TOTAL PASSENGERS COMPARISON
 
  • May 2013: 65,611 total passengers
  • May 2014: 75,452 total passengers
  • Jan - May 2013: 292,967 total passengers
  • Jan - May 2014: 327,355 total passengers

 

SCHEDULED AIRLINE FLIGHTS

 

  • Jan - May 2013: 3,105
  • Jan - May 2014: 3,253

 

Posted in: Airlines, Airports, How the Airport Works | 0 Comment(s) ››

May 22, 2014

 

 

Lots of good news to share today ... let's begin with the Boeing 717.

 

Delta Air Lines begins Boeing 717 service here on September 2. The plane will serve the Springfield-Atlanta route. Right now we have five daily Atlanta flights on 50-seat regional jets. In September a 717 will serve one of those flights. That means four Atlanta flights a day on 50-seaters, and one on a 717, which has 110 seats.

 

This is good news for a couple of reasons: 1) if you hate the cramped confines of 50-seaters you now have a choice, and 2) the addition of this bigger airplane adds more seats per day to Atlanta. This is a big deal because the 50-seaters are frequently sold-out. More seats per day means fewer customers turned away.

 

The 717 has 110 seats. 12 of those are first class. 15 are what Delta calls Economy Comfort. 83 are economy class. The planes have wi-fi, and 110v AC and USB in-seat power. Check out the floor plan here.

 

Delta is already selling Springfield-Atlanta 717 flights on its website.

 

FARES
 

Yes, you read that headline right. Airlines are charging less at the Springfield airport. We don’t know exactly why and they’re not down a lot, but they are down. It almost looks like a trend — check it out:

 

  • At the end of the 2nd Quarter, 2013, airline fares were down .09 percent, year over year.
  • At the end of the 3rd Quarter, 2013, airline fares were down 2.5 percent, year over year.
  • At the end of the 4th Quarter, 2013, airline fares were down 3.4 percent, year over year.

Here’s how it looks in dollars and cents. Note the average national fare is going up, while fares here are going down:

 

2012Q4 Average One-Way Net Fare
 
2013Q4 Average One-Way Net Fare
  • Springfield average: $220.72
  • U.S. average: $191.23
  • Springfield average: $213.81
  • U.S. average: $196.31
Net fare excludes taxes and fees; it's the amount the airline actually sees.  
   

This decline is likely the result of the improved financial health of the domestic airlines — specifically Delta and American. As we’ve noted here before, American has been 'fare aggressive' since the announcement of its merger with US Airways. And Delta, which is reaping the financial benefits of its merger with Continental, is being aggressive as well.

 

Bottom line: the dip in fares in likely due to good old fashioned competition. We won’t have fare data for the 1st Quarter of this year until July or August. Here's hoping we've got a trend in the making.

 

PASSENGER NUMBERS UP

 

Speaking of possible trends …

 

So far this year total airline passenger numbers are up 10.8 percent in Springfield. It’s only the second time since the turn of the century that Springfield has seen a double digit increase during the first four months of the year (the first time was in 2005 when Allegiant started service here).

 

Here’s how it breaks down:

 

 

  • January: + 9.2%
  • February: + 13.1%
  • March: + 9.8%
  • April: + 11.4%
These percentage increases compare this year’s months to last year’s months. Example: this year’s January passenger numbers are up 9.2% compared to the same month last year.

 

There’s little doubt that these growth numbers are directly attributable to two things: 1) the vastly improved health of the airline industry, and 2) the improvements in the local and national economies since the end of the Great Recession.

 

Four years ago it seemed like most domestic airlines were on life-support. Now they’re making money (with the exception of United). Why? The industry publication Airline Weekly calls it the “Three-C” reforms:

 

  • Capacity discipline: in 2006 airlines began doing something they’d really never done before: cutting the number of seats they had in the air; this saved money. In 2011 they began cutting like crazy. That year capacity was cut a whopping 22 percent at this airport.
  • Consolidation: Delta merged with Northwest. United merged with Continental. American merged with US Airways … the list goes on. At the turn of the century there were at least a dozen networked airlines with daily schedules. Today there are four: American, Delta, United, and Southwest.
  • Charging for everything: Customers don’t like fees (such as bag fees) but here’s the hard, cold reality: fee revenue is one of the main reasons airlines are making any money at all.

So, the airlines are doing better financially. That’s given them the ability to be more strategic. Here’s what I mean by that ...

 

Before 2006 (when capacity discipline began) airline business plans called for capacity growth — they grew their networks (the places they flew) for growth’s sake. Never mind that that kind of growth strategy didn’t necessarily make more money.

 

Today airlines only fly where they'll make money. They will increase capacity in certain markets (where they know they can make more money), but they are not making significant increases to their overall networks. And this leads us to the Southwest Missouri economy …

 

As a whole, the airlines serving Springfield are growing capacity here (i.e. the addition of 717s) because there's money to be made — they're taking airplanes from other cities and putting them here. That’s one of the main reasons our passenger numbers are up over ten percent for the year. It’s a sign that the local economy is doing much better, and that demand for air travel is high. The proof is in the numbers:

 
Total Available Seats in Springfield January - April, 2014

 

  • Allegiant: + 17.6%
  • American: + 7.4%
  • Delta: + 1.9%
  • United: - 2%

If history is a guide the growth in capacity and passengers will moderate in the second half of the year.

 

As for fares ... let's hope they continue downward. That would be music to everyone's ears.

 

 

Posted in: Airlines, Delta, Fares | 0 Comment(s) ››

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