It looks like this has turned into Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) week here on the blog. Monday, I looked at the winners of the 2012 grants that I liked. Tuesday I looked at the ones I didn’t like. But there were a lot of requests via the comment section, email, and Twitter to review what happened to the winners from last year. So here we go.
Last year, there were 29 winners of SCASD grant money. Of those, very few have had any sort of success at even getting the planned use for the grant money off the ground. Looking at the ones that were hoping to get a revenue guarantee to attract air service, we had four successful efforts.
The Lucky Four
- South Bend, Indiana wanted low cost carrier service to Denver. It took awhile, but Frontier will begin service in October.
- Grand Forks, North Dakota wanted Denver as well, and it will be getting service on United that same month.
- Bozeman, Montana wanted a New York flight. It got it with Saturday-only service this summer on United.
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania wanted a Denver flight like the others and it might be the biggest success. Frontier delivered with a summer seasonal flight and it did well enough for the airline to extend it by a couple of months through the end of October.
Those all seem to be a shot at success, and the SCASD grant is a big part of that. But there are a lot more that have yet to see any success at attracting service. Flagstaff (AZ), Santa Rosa (CA), Evansville (IN), Pikeville (KY), Baton Rouge (LA), Kalamazoo (MI), St Cloud (MN), Fargo (ND), Albany (NY), Toledo (OH), North Bend (OR), Tri-Cities (TN), San Angelo (TX), Lyncburgh (VA), Spokane (WA), and Green Bay (WI) have all failed to attract the service they wanted so far. But they still have time before the potential to use the grant money expires.
Auburn and Dubuque Talk about Their Struggles
One that I was particularly curious about was Auburn/Lewiston (ME), something that drew my eye when the grant was announced. I called the airport to see how efforts to get commercial service were going. I was told that the airport is currently without a manager so efforts seem to have slowed. It didn’t sound very promising.
I also spoke with airport manager Bob Grierson in Dubuque, Iowa to see how efforts were going to get DFW service. Things don’t seem to be moving very quickly. He said they’re “going back for a 3rd visit [to American Airlines] trying to negotiate opening up Dallas.” They are also trying to work with United as an other option. But the former’s bankruptcy and the latter’s merger with Continental is hurting opportunities.
One thing Dubuque won’t be doing is going after Allegiant. “I’m not going to continue talking with Allegiant. They wanted two years of everything free, and we just don’t have that kind of dynamic here.”
Escanaba and Its Marketing Money
But what about the marketing grants? Some communities like Crescent City (CA) and Pocatello (ID) received money to help promote either new service or changed service. How has that gone? I called up Delta County Airport in Escanaba (MI) and spoke with airport manager Connie Ness to understand how things have been going with their $72,500 grant meant to help market big service changes by Delta.
Escanaba is an Essential Air Service market that sits on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and it used to have service to both Detroit and Minneapolis in tandem with Iron Mountain, just a few miles west. Delta shuffled things around and now only does Detroit. It also upgauged from turboprops to larger 50 seat regional jets. How’s it going?
“The marketing has actually seemed to help a lot. Our numbers are up.” That does seem to be the case. Looking at masFlight data, In January 2011, Delta boarded 1,581 passengers in Escanaba. This year, it was 1,813. (January 2012 is the most recent data available.) Load factor has remained fairly steady (over 50% to Detroit), despite the larger aircraft type.
Is this due to the newspaper and radio ads that Escanaba has been able to run? Beats me. It’s very hard to tie these things together. I asked, but the airport hasn’t done any surveying to try to judge effectiveness. So it’s really just going off boardings.
Does It Count as a Success?
So was 2011 a successful year for the program? I’d say so. Four airports have new service that they probably wouldn’t have been able to get on their own. It took $2.5 million in revenue guarantees, but those might not even need to be tapped if the service works well enough. And the rest of those revenue guarantee grants don’t get used unless service comes in before the grant expires. And what about the marketing money? That’s harder to judge but it was less than $1.5 million of the total grant awards. So it’s a fairly small number.
As I’ve said before, I still like this program. It provides opportunities for sustainable, new service that might not be realized otherwise.