The Air Service Challenge

As small airports struggle to attract airline service, the success of St. Cloud Regional Airport showcases why smaller communities need air-service too


Landing Allegiant didn’t happen quickly. According to Towle, “We talked to the airline for several years before St. Cloud became low-hanging fruit.”

Currently Allegiant operates a 156-seat Airbus A319 aircraft for its St. Cloud flights instead. “Throughout our network,” Lillard says, “we aim to fill 90 percent of our seats.”

The airport hopes their work with Allegiant provides flight data that will attract other airlines to the airport. And, they are hopeful that Allegiant will find success with its current routes and add more flights from St. Cloud to other hot spots.

 

Back to the Future

The future growth of air service at St. Cloud Regional Airport depends on many factors. First, airlines have to look at expanding. After all the merger activities begin to wind down, adding flights and expanding into new areas may begin to happen. Then, the airlines will have the ability to evaluate their route maps, where they overlap and what new flights to consider. The price of fuel also plays a significant role in the process. If oil prices rise, airlines may continue to phase out smaller aircraft, in essence hurting the chances of smaller communities in restoring airline service. Lastly, the city and the airport must continue to pursue and gather local support to convince an airline that the community is ready for new air service.

Smaller community airports can learn a lot from St. Cloud’s experiences. For instance:

• Gathering data and going after local businesses proves to airlines that the community is in support of regaining air service and would adequately and consistently use such services if flights returned.

• Towle advises other communities and airport managers to “be persistent.” It takes many talks and much time before doors are opened.

• He also indicates that communities must know their market. “Passenger-demand analysis studies must be thorough and kept current,” he says. The airport must prove that the population can support air service and the service sought must be in line with what the business community and residents will use. Support must come from the business community—not just the airport manager. “It takes a village to bring air service in,” Towle chuckles.

It may take many years before smaller communities can put their cities back on the aviation map. Until then, airports officials and their business communities must continually work to prove to airlines that there is a need and an opportunity in their community.

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