Air Service in Troubled Times

With a perfect storm brewing for airlines, airports stay vigilant - and patient

Curry says that there are upsides to having air service even only for a short time. “You accumulate the data that was proven by Skybus and you go out and you look for other airlines to fill that gap because that data will allow another airline to see the cities where opportunities exist.

“When an airline goes out of business and they’re not at your airport anymore, it’s not a total loss. They prove certain things that you may or may not have known,” Curry says. He cites routes that will work, and what the airport’s passengers will support as examples.

“Our plan hasn’t changed, because an airport is never built for one single airline,” Curry says.

Since the Skybus fallout, Mexican-based airline vivaAerobus filed paperwork with the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin daily flights from Gary to Monterrey, Mexico, as well as Las Vegas and Austin, provided the airport can secure funding for a Customs office.

Curry isn’t particularly optimistic about the current state of the industry. “All of us airports are on the same playing field,” Curry says. “As you watch the price of crude oil go up you just sit back and wonder who’s next. And unfortunately it’s a situation that the airports have no control over.

“Everybody’s taking the same risk. No airport is any different than the other and no airline is really different than any other in the way that they operate. I believe all these airlines, when they come in, their intention is to do the best they can. They’re all professionals.”

Edward Johnson, executive director of Piedmont Triad Airport Authority in Greensboro, NC, says losing Skybus after several months of service was a disappointment.

“We really hated to lose those guys,” Johnson says. “They were doing good business through our airport.”

Skybus was not the first low-cost carrier to come and go at Triad — Johnson points to Independence Air and AirTran as examples. “These guys that are trying to do something different in the airline business, there’s a certain amount of risk that goes with that.”

Johnson says the airport didn’t lose much with the loss of Skybus.

“We were not that deeply invested,” he says. Overall, he estimates the airline cost the airport a little more than $1 million in advertising — which he hopes might help attract other carriers — and the addition of switchbacks on some gates.

The Delta/Northwest merger
As of press time, Delta and Northwest were working to get their merger approved in Washington, and rumors of further mergers and alliances for US Air, United, and Continental continued.

Sieber says that due to the general lack of Delta and Northwest’s respective networks, he doesn’t expect a resulting merger to cause many cuts in service.

“It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over time,” Sieber says.

“Certainly there will be some cost benefits and synergy that will be realized, but the real upside is on the revenue side of the equation. So I don’t think that near-term we’re going to see a heck of a lot service cutbacks. I’d be very surprised.”

Sieber says the hubs will also probably remain intact. The only one he thinks may be on shaky ground is Cincinnati.

“Cincinnati is somewhat of a weak hub to begin with, so they might be a bit on the vulnerable side,” Sieber says. He estimates that airports connected to the network via Cincinatti also have access through other connecting hubs, “so I don’t really see any loss of access to the system by any of those markets.”

Cincinnati spokesperson Ted Bushelman says the president of Delta came to Cincinnati shortly after the merger agreement to assure interested parties that the hub there will not be closed.

Bushelman says he’s confident about the airport’s position within the Delta network. “We have three things on our side. One is that we’re the most profitable hub that Delta has. Second is, that we’re in the center of population in the United States. Third is, we have more Fortune 500 companies than any city anywhere near our size.”

Still, that doesn’t mean Cincinnati isn’t looking at contingency plans. “We’ve discussed what we’re going to do if something would happen in the future. But you always do that.

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