Boyd On Pit Future


Jan 8, 2003
Reality article on the future of PIT, with or without US Airways. A link to the article is provided which includes an interesting photo of those airport that will loss service.

Hot Flash - May 10, 2004

That Scraping Sound Really IS An Iceberg....
Economic Realities Hitting Pittsburgh-Dependent Airports:
Looking For Alternatives

In late 1989, we authored an article in Commuter Air magazine (back then, independent commuter/regional airlines still existed) that outlined how major carrier systems would eventually establish what were sort of "sub-hubs." The concept was to dominate the O&D at airports that had strong traffic generation, but were not large enough to support a connecting hub.

We even coined a new term for the concept: "Focus City." That was fifteen years ago. Now, it's a common term.

Perhaps, too common. Last week, US Airways announced that Pittsburgh would be relegated from a full-scale connecting hub to, yes, a "focus city" operation. The message was clear: less flights at PIT. Less connectivity in the future. Fewer destinations served.

No More "Studies" - The Fat Lady's Singing. This is big trouble for a lot of airports whose access depends on having an on-brand (read: US Airways) connecting operation at PIT. Without it, Pittsburgh is neutered as far as being an access point for small communities in the region. We said it last October...

It's time for the circus to stop and hard realities to be considered. No matter how much huffing and puffing comes from various senators, congressmen, governors and the rest of the political cast of thousands, this is an issue of economics, not civic hubris. It makes no difference how many "extensive analyses" are done, outlining in glorious detail and colorful pictographs the traffic patterns and the great economy of Western Pennsylvania. That won't do diddly to attract another hubbing airline. Nor will it expand the number of target airlines to which the airport will need to see about increasing service - something that's clear without spending tens of thousands on grandiose coffee-table studies. Those things are simply distractions from facing the music: gaining another large hub operation at PIT is a lost cause. Some replacement service to some large markets, yes. A big hub, no. To tell the County anything different, as some are doing, is the intellectual equivalent of telling fairy tales.
(Go There For The Entire Article On Pittsburgh Future)

Small Airports: No US Airways PIT Hub = Less, And Maybe, No Air Service. US Airways going to a focus city schedule is not great news for PIT. But for around two dozen smaller communities which depend on the US Airways hub at PIT for access to the air transportation system - it's the air service equivalent of what happened at Hiroshima. For more than a few of these smaller airports, the loss of substantial connectivity at PIT will transform what was shaky air service into effectively no air service. Without the ability to access on-brand connections to the rest of the world, those US Airways Express 19-seaters buzzing into and out of PIT will simply be an expensive exercise in wasting fuel.

A Hard Look At The Options. And Lack of Same. We're facing economic realities - and they are not pleasant realities. For some, the ability to maintain viable air service at many smaller communities is coming to an end. But the loss of PIT connectivity will affect a lot of these communities differently.

A Few Cases: Nobody'll Notice: At some communities, there won't be any real change - the EAS service that was being operated was stuff consumers weren't using, anyway. The service was so sparse that consumers were driving, particularly at communities close to PIT. But they were often driving to PIT, to take advantage of the airport's hub-level service. Oops, that's going away. So even the "leakage portion" of these airports' traffic is getting the short end.

Collateral Damage: At other airports, the loss of the US Airways service could weaken local ridership on other carriers, causing further service losses. Fewer total air service options tends to reduce the attractiveness of using the local airport.

Example: If an airport has marginally-viable Delta Connection service to ATL, the loss of US Airways to PIT won't necessarily toss more traffic Delta's way. Consumers will have fewer total flight options to use, and the result will be more folks diverting to other, larger, airports.

Unlike Nature, Airlines Don't Abhor A Vacuum At Small Airports: And, drawing on the hypothetical example of the airport that today just has service from US Airways and Delta Connection, if US Airways service goes to airline heaven, it's entirely unlikely that Delta will jump in with replacement service to, say, CVG. Weak markets, even when a carrier pulls out, are not attractive for new applications of $18-million RJs.

Alternative Service: Communities that depend on US Airways Express as their sole carrier, particularly those with only 19-seat service, have very few options. The potential of shifting the service to US Airways' PHL hub is there, but it's uncertain whether that carrier's new scheduling will represent any real connectivity. Furthermore, the economics of 19-seaters are getting really ugly. The new FAA passenger weight regulations, higher fuel costs, and other factors are making them very pricey machines to toss across the sky.

Return of Interline Connections? Richard Nixon's More Likely To Come Back. There are some charlatans who peddle the idea of having independent commuter airlines fly from small markets and connect to "all" the carriers at a bigger city. One variation on this fantasy is to have the government force big airlines to have joint fares with this faceless armada of commuter airlines that will supposedly spring up.

Like, we really want to know where all these people are who're just itchin' to grab a fleet of old Metro-IIIs and take to the red-ink skies. A drug test may be in order.

But there's another government action that will be necessary to make this work: a law forcing consumers to get on small airplanes they generally don't want to ride on. (President Lincoln did away with that kind of thing, by the way.)

Face it - the rotten economics of small turboprops aside (which would make fares astronomical) - consumers don't want to get on 19-seaters anymore. Or, even 30-seaters. Particularly if they are independent airlines. Then add in the real-world factors these Pied-Pipers (who typically have zero airline operational or planning experience) ignore, such as schedule connectivity on a round-trip basis, e-ticket interchange, T&B agreements, and facility issues, to name a few, and the concept can be summed up in one word: fruitcake.

The Replacement-At-Pittsburgh Concept. As noted above, it's likely there will be some additional carriers entering the PIT market. But the potential of another airline setting up a large scale hub is on the ragged edge of the Twilight Zone. And even if an airline did try a connecting hub there, they wouldn't get near any markets that cannot at least support small jets. That's economic reality. And it's consumer-preference reality.

Where Do We Go From Here? We're working with a number of our client airports on post-Pittsburgh and other US Airways contingency strategies. These include community awareness, preparation of service-reduction shocks, and developing counter-tactical programs. If you're a community affected by what's going on at PIT, or with hubsite reductions elsewhere, give us a call at (303) 674-2000.

All of us at The Boyd Group have senior management experience in airline planning and operations. That means we understand that keeping air service in the sky requires one critical element:

Staying grounded in reality.
That is very interesting reading, particularly about independent commuter airlines that all of the airlines would work with. I've heard this idea before for EAS service and wondered if it could work, but that article explians pretty well why it wouldnt.

Although our oddball MCI operation is almost an example because I think (not positive, I could be wrong) that Midwest Airlines puts thier code on those Air Midwest/US Airways Express flights. I've always wondered how the MCI stuff even remains in the US system and how it even works with such little connectivity there.