My Five Least Favorite Winners of the 2012 SCASD Grants

Yesterday I wrote about the Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grants I liked. Today it’s time for the fun ones. These are the ones that I just don’t like at all.

SCASDP Applications

Here’s my list, in alphabetical order, of the grants that don’t make any sense to me. If you’d like to learn more about this program, you can see all 61 applications at regulations.gov. You can also see the list of winners here.

Arcata/Eureka
Way up in Northern California, about 300 miles beyond San Francisco, lies Arcata and Eureka. Today, this airport has United Express service primarily to San Francisco and Sacramento and not much more. In recent times, Alaska tried to serve the market from LA and failed. Delta tried to go east to Salt Lake and failed as well, leaving us where we are today. So what does the airport want? It wants service to the east again. Now it wants United to Denver. We’ve already seen that it can’t support Delta’s short-lived service east, so why will this be different? Well, it’ll be even worse because now it will cannibalize United’s existing San Francisco flights and that’s a bad plan. The airport tried for this same grant last year and lost, but apparently this year, the feds changed their minds.

Champaign/Urbana
Most of the small cities here complain that they are plagued by high fares and they need some relief. Champaign/Urbana, home of the University of Illinois, has service to Chicago on American but that’s it, and it thinks the fares are way too high. So how will it solve its high fare problem? It wants United service to Dulles. Oh please. There is no way United is going to come into that market with low fares. It’s also pretty tough to imagine that there will be enough demand to support the route after the money dries up. Sorry Fighting Illini, but this one isn’t going to get you what you want.

Corpus Christi
Like most smaller cities around the US, Corpus Christi in Texas has seen fares rise and service cut. Unlike most, however, Corpus Christi maintains Southwest service. Not much has changed in terms of overall service at the airport, but Corpus Christi thinks a marketing campaign telling people how convenient the airport is will help keep people from going elsewhere. I don’t buy it. If there was something new to communicate, then sure, but there isn’t.

Redmond/Bend
Go another 400 miles north and east of Eureka and you’ll find Redmond/Bend in Oregon. These guys really want service to Southern California on United, Delta, or American, and they got the grant to do it. But is that a good idea? Well, Alaska tried it on Horizon turboprops and failed. With codesharing opportunities with both Delta and American, if Alaska couldn’t make it work, what’s the chance these others can on their own? Not so good. This one seems destined to fail.

Topeka
As one of the few state capitals without air service, you might think there would be some opportunity in Topeka. But there’s a reason there’s no service there. Kansas City’s airport is only an hour away with plentiful service, so people just go there. But maybe Topeka is right, maybe there is something that will work out perfectly. What’s the plan? United Express to Chicago, where Topeka says it has demand for 50 people a day. There’s only one problem with that. Fares from Kansas City to Chicago are relatively low, so it’s going to be hard to keep fares high enough to be profitable and low enough to prevent people from going to Kansas City. Topeka’s proximity to Kansas City is what it kills it, and I don’t see this service being able to survive.

What bugs me most about the wins for these cities is that there are other grants that came in that I thought would have been more worthy. I found myself laughing at the Del Rio, Texas request for marketing funds now that its United service will be operated by ExpressJet instead of Colgan Air turboprops. There were plenty of angry words in the proposal about how horribly unreliable Colgan was and that pushed people away from booking. But if the service was truly unreliable, the community needs to be educated that things are changing.

Of course, not all the losers were good ones. There were even worse proposals than these that mercifully didn’t get an award. For example, French Lick, Indiana says it wants to study air service. Why? Because there were about 1,000 people in a year that had to drive 1.5 hours from Louisville to the French Lick Resort and they think they’re leaving a lot on the table. Really? I’m sure something might be left on the table but not enough to justify sustained air service. This would be a waste of money even to study it.

My favorite of the bad ideas, however, is probably Mineral County, Nevada. They seem to think that it’s the right time to start High Sierra Airlines in order to connect a bunch of small cities in Nevada. Hmm, not so much.

I do still think SCASD is a good program that doesn’t cost much (only $14 million max this year). I just wish that some of the criteria were changed to prevent funding applications that just don’t really make much sense.

[To see my least favorite proposals from last year, go here.]

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