Oct. 13--Business and government representatives in the Roanoke Valley and nearby communities have for years wanted passenger service preserved or expanded at Roanoke Regional Airport.
But the airlines, thwacked by financial headwinds, have instead cut. The number of flights leaving the Roanoke airport fell 20 percent from 2007 to 2012. Passenger traffic out of Roanoke Regional Airport has not returned to pre-recession levels, and airport officials are unable to predict when it will.
Is local passenger aviation in jeopardy?
An aviation researcher with 20 years of experience says no.
"I would say exactly the opposite," said William Swelbar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
These aren't boom times for air travel, but Roanoke's airport is running strong where it counts. The airport's flight schedule, despite being trimmed, holds an outstanding national ranking for airports of its size, he said.
An industry analyst at the Center for Air Transportation at MIT, Swelbar has rated the nation's passenger service airports to see what kind of service remains after the airline industry contracted. Large airlines struggled the entire last decade, hurt by the September 2001 attacks and the global recession. Ticket demand fell. Fuel prices rose. From 2000 through 2009, they posted accumulated losses of nearly $63 billion, the federal Department of Transportation reported in 2012.
While airlines regained profitability in 2009, it was only through major cuts in seat availability, primarily at small and medium airports, and fare and fee increases, mergers and bankruptcies. Twenty-four small airports lost all scheduled passenger service, Swelbar found.
Using a big spreadsheet, he logged the frequency of each airport's scheduled flights, the number of destinations served by the flights and the number of connecting flights possible from those destinations. It's all bundled together in the Airport Connectivity Quality Index, released in June.
The top five most-connected airports in the country are those in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas and JFK in New York, in that order. Only three of the nation's 29 busiest airports offered more connectivity in 2012 than in 2007: San Francisco, Denver and Miami.
The most-connected medium-sized airport? St. Louis. The most-connected small airport? Richmond.
Then there is a category called non-hub for the very smallest 249 airfields, defined as those with light passenger traffic relative to the nation's more than 8 million departures a year.
The best-connected of these is Asheville's airport. No. 4 on this list is Roanoke.
On a typical day last month, Delta Airlines, United Express and US Airways Express and the low-cost carrier Allegiant Air flew up to 1,539 people to seven of the nation's largest airports and a Florida vacation spot. Twenty-five flights left and 25 flights landed, each weekday, not counting the activity of two cargo carriers.
Run by a commission set up by Roanoke city and county, the airport operates on about $7 million a year -- without local tax dollars -- with the aim of serving passenger travel needs for 19 counties in Virginia and West Virginia.
Compared to its peers, Roanoke's airport is "very well connected," Swelbar said. He said airlines have eliminated unprofitable routes and more or less only do business where they make money. For four airlines to fly in and out of Roanoke multiple times a day "says that the market is relatively vibrant from their perspective," he said.
With one stop, a traveler can reach nearly 500 destinations, officials said.
Lots of lost ground
It's not clear that this will quiet waves of grumbling that the airport's flight schedule and fares aren't good enough. While the nation's airports lost 14 percent of flights overall, Roanoke lost 20 percent, falling from 11,285 flights in 2007 to 8,982 flights in 2012. The number of seats on planes departing Roanoke fell from 548,977 in 2007 to 455,963 in 2012, a drop of 17 percent.
A new study commissioned by American Airlines concludes that Dallas/Fort Worth Airport could lose hundreds of flights to scores of destinations if the Wright Amendment is repealed.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters Issues Recommendations to Help Avoid Future Abrupt Aircraft Groundings
Secretary Peters added that the FAA and airlines need to review and improve procedures for understanding the process, timing and criteria for requesting and approving alternative solutions for...
There could be more competition in the long run for Baltimore-Washington area travelers as other airlines jockey for the more than 40 gates Independence will leave behind at Washington Dulles Int'l...
Southwest Airlines is ready to celebrate its first minute of freedom from the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field