High and Hot

High and Hot
The Challenge of Air Service Development

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Air Service Development Starts with a Simple Fact...!

     Your Airport Must have Operational Conditions that Allow Your Target Aircraft Type to Fly In!

     That's right...many an "Air Service Development Plan" falters because the airport to which a community is trying to attract commercial airline service to...has operational characteristics that preclude service by the aircraft and airline market they are looking to attract.   
Airline guarantees, subsidies, marketing or other incentives are inconsequential to your airline service development efforts if your airport can not be flown into by the airline/aircraft your community is targeting!
     Airline Operational Conditions...while often difficult to understand...can make the answer easy to a communities request for airline service when the answer is no. Airlines first and foremost are focused on providing SAFE transporation from point A to point B. If the airport has a short runway for it's elevation or obstacles that force extreme take-off or landing situations that an aircraft cannot handle then an airline won't be able to serve you. If the airline can make it in and out of an airport but has to restrict airline seats it can sell then this to can preclude an airline from coming to your community.

     Airlines are commercial enterprises and as such need to earn a profit to remain in business. If the conditions drive a restriction on how many seats an airline can sell it can make the service economically unviable if the level of restriction impedes the ability to make a profit.
     Aspen Colorado, (http://www.aspenairport.com/ ) in its effort to get a runway extension recently noted that the runway extension was not so much about getting new aircraft types and markets but in being able to fill in more seats on present aircraft and markets that were flying into the airport. At over 8000 feet elevation and with a 7000 foot runway in the summer particularly and from longer distances (Over 1000 Miles) the CRJ700 aircraft flying into Aspen takes seat restrictions on their flights (Particularly in the heat of summer) that jeopardize the ability of some of their flights to operate profitably. Atlanta in particular, a service they have had, is in jeopardy of not continuiing due to the seat restrictions the airport is experiencing. Even if the Aspen community were to consider revenue guarantees to continue this Atlanta service (And they are not...Aspen doesn't guarantee any service)...the seat restriction issue due to its operational challenges makes Aspen a difficult airport for the service to continue to.
     Charlottesville Virginia (http://www.gocho.com/ ) is another community that is losing service due to airport operational conditions (Also runway length at the elevation of the airport). A direct flight to Detroit recently got cancelled due to a short runway. Often a 50 seat regional jet could only fill 35 seats when it was hot. Even at 640 feet elevation instead of 8000 feet like Aspen, Charlottesville experiences situations where the airport needs either more runway length or needs its aircraft to have less weight on takeoff. The airport is presently looking at an 800 foot runway extension to take care of this issue so it can try to regain service to Detroit.

     So...the first question that should be asked as it regards your airport and gaining airline service should be: "What aircraft can operationally fly into our airport and from the markets we desire air service from?!" Additionally the community air service development effort should consider...does the airlines we're  considering approaching about airline service have these aircraft in the markets within a range where they can safely and economically sustainably serve your community?

     If the answer is no...then you need to consider other market service options or look at the airport infrastructure (Runway Length, Elevation, Obstacles etc...)  and improve the conditions of the airport to expand the aircraft types and mileage ranges of these aircraft that can service your community.

     I know from personal experience that some things can't be done...In Telluride we have the highest commercial airport in the United States at over 9000 feet high...we can't lower the mountain. We can look at runway length and approaches which we are doing. Additionally we're clarifying the aircraft and mileage ranges these aircraft can fly in from so that we don't waste our time pursuing aircraft that won't be able to sustainably fly into Telluride.

     Recommendation: Save yourself some trouble...before getting too far down the road of airline service development...1) know what is possible aircraft and market/distance from airport-wise and 2) Focus on airlines that could provide service from those markets as targets for your air service acquisition efforts.


A Blog from Scott Stewart at Community Flights: scott@communityflights.com

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