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.]

21 Responses to My Five Least Favorite Winners of the 2012 SCASD Grants

  1. I think that there are some people like me (in Phoenix) who want to travel to ACV in order to hike the cooler redwoods over the course of a weekend (especially in the summertime when we bake here in PHX). Unfortunately, the airfares into ACV are too high to do this since only UA connects that route from PHX. Now apparently it will still be only UA, but with multiple connection points now.

    I think that money would have been better used to target tourists by using it to offset (and thus lower fares) into ACV on Fridays/Sat and out on Sundays/Mon myself.

    Oh well.

  2. Brian Lusk says:

    Hey CF,
    How about a look at last year’s winners and a followup of what is happening in those markets. Did the grants make a difference?

    • that would be great! Especially since I, (like a lot of people likely) read this and think of waste waste waste!

    • CF says:

      Brian – You’re not the first to ask this so I’m putting it together. I am hoping to have it up by Thursday. (FYI, it isn’t pretty at first glance.)

  3. Some of these cities/airports remind me of my childhood and wanting everything that was in the Sears and Montgomery Wards Christmas catalogs.

    Small cities located between two large cities are really never going to get more service then between those two cities. With few exceptions, there would never be enough traffic to support daily service anywhere else.

  4. Sanjeev M says:

    Redmond, OR already has plenty of service to the local hubs on DL, UA, AA. Maybe F9 to DEN would work.

    I actually believe Champaign/Urbana (and many other college campuses) could support temporary service during breaks and the start/end of school. I could easily see DL/UA/F9 connect their Mountain and Midwest hubs just for a few days. They do have some slack in the system (esp regional jets).

    Brett, is temporary service to a station the airline doesn’t serve expensive?

    • Hunter says:

      Sanjeev…it depends. If the airline can secure inexpensive ground handling contracts in a city, seasonal service or less than daily service has a better chance of making some money for them. But, if they have to staff a station, provide ground equipment, etc. then the costs probably won’t line up with the service.

    • CF says:

      Sanjeev – They could do that, but it really isn’t worth it. College students will do anything for a cheap seat, so they can just drive to Chicago and suck it up.

  5. Excellent recap, Brett. Keep up the great work!

  6. Sean S. says:

    Regionalization continues apace. This year alone I have flown 4 times, but in neither of those situations have used my home airport of CAE. I’ve used AGS (for the crazy low fares on Delta) as well as CLT for international flights. The only flight I am going to take this year at CAE is an October flight to DEN because of scheduling issues.

    Do I think there is untapped growth opportunities out there for smaller, non-hub airports? Certainly. And certainly the 787 opens up some second tier markets to international access they may have lost or never had, its hard to see where the really small airports will get a leg up. The kind of pie in the sky plan to use VLJ’s to service smaller airports never bore out.

    This sort of realignment of air service I think will result in some serious economic strain for smaller communities, many of whom will lack the ease of access that is required of business customers to have access to factories or suppliers.

  7. JayB says:

    I think we all know the EAS and SCASD programs are going to come to an end, probably sooner rather than later. I may not agree with that, but continuing along the path we are on is crazy.

    I ask you, Cranky, in your spare time [well, scratch that], to volunteer to chair a Blue Ribbon Commission, (on which anyone with a real, known political bent, is disqualified to serve) to lay out a plan so that each small and mid-size airport in this country will be served with one, and probably no more than one air carrier.

    No code-share type service, just an independent carrier to get people out of and into the country’s small and mid-size communities. Essentilly, all to/from a major hub type service. And, funding by a combination of private and public funding.

    Confident we will solve our medical service access and insurance issues, our social security matters, our system for taxation/revenue raising, can the provision of effective, efficient and economical air transportation to all our citizens wherever they may live, work and play not be within the realm of possibility?

  8. Justin says:

    I actually think Champaign/Urbana makes sense in one specific way. They can use it to fly to DC to lobby for another grant next year! Seems perfect…

  9. sjc user says:

    CMI has BMI about an hour’s drive away and there are more options there. Additionally, CMI is 2 hours from IND and 2.5 hours from ORD where there are many non-stop flights all over the world.

    DL (pre-NW merger) had CMI – CVG and then CMI – ATL and both of those routes failed. DL then pulled CMI – DTW. So, I don’t see any reason why CMI should expect any new routes to be successful.

    When I was a student at Illinois, I never flew out of CMI. It was always ORD or IND.

  10. EricInChi says:

    Wasn’t High Sierra Airlines the fictional commuter that Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate stew flick??

  11. My daughter goes to HSU in Arcata and it’s over $400.00 to fly her home to So. Cal. and takes at least 6 hours with the layovers in San Francisco or Sacramento. Pretty ridiculous if you ask me. She ends up driving home and that literally takes 13 hours. There needs to be an airline/airport in No. Cal. that serves the people who live there and go to school there better than UAL.

  12. Pingback: Some of Last Year’s SCASD Winners Have Seen Success - >> The Cranky Flier

  13. matthew says:

    A couple years ago (2008?), United Express served IAD-SPI (Springfield, Illinois). That didn’t work out, so I wonder why IAD-CMI would. DL, NW, UA, US have all pulled out of CMI, so a magic flight to Dulles won’t create some magic demand.

  14. I chuckled when i saw the CMI – IAD possibility. wow, they are getting desperate. I recently went down there and found their airport to STILL be the most unimpressive of all the middle-Illinois airports just beating PIA for the title.

    Jay, O’HareAviation

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