Some of Last Year’s SCASD Winners Have Seen Success

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.

SCASDP Applications

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.

[Update 8/23: St Cloud, a SCASD winner from last year, just nailed down Allegiant service]

25 Responses to Some of Last Year’s SCASD Winners Have Seen Success

  1. Pingback: Why the Most Successful Small Community Air Service Grants are the Biggest Indictment of the Program - View from the Wing

  2. Gary Leff says:

    Sure seems like damning with faint praise to me ;)

  3. Althought the SCASD win didn’t lead to the success they were after, I think the process has made some of the airport authorities more creative. Spokane has landed Allegiant service to HNL, Fargo has landed Frontier and Green Bay has the MetJet charter service starting in October (as per their website). Harrisburg’s management has shown creativity in landing Frontier and Allegiant, and has filled some of the gap left by AirTran, which is impressive considering how close it is to so many other large airports.

  4. Brian Lusk says:

    Thanks for the thorough update, Brett. A fascinating but under-reported story. Seems like the program would make an interesting academic study looking at the longterm.

  5. Hats off to Dubuque for saying no to Allegiant. To often you hear of a company/airport agreeing to sell themselves out to the big guy just to get the business which usually hurts them in the long run. Dubuque was smart enough to know they could not give everything away just to try and get Allegiant and said no.

  6. Roger says:

    Brett,

    The Auburn/Lewiston Maine airport in my humble opinion, should never have been granted. Auburn/Lewiston is a 45 minute drive to KPWM (Portland International Jetport) and a 45 minute drive to the north to Augusta which already has EAS. I am all for grants for towns that need it, but people should be willing to drive 45 minutes to PWM which has terrific service to most hubs in the US given the size and relative proximity to MHT and BOS.

    As a side note, any service they would pick up (albiet probably a small crj or 19 seat turbo prop) would also eat away at numbers for PWM. PWM is going to try and maintain LUV service soon and must be one of the smallest markets on their route map whilst upgrading to a 737 from the 717.

  7. JayB says:

    Your comment about Dubuque and Allegiant. I chuckled! How many other airports have done the same?

  8. Felix says:

    Good article but as you already know and have written extensively about there are some real bad ideas that does not help the overall SACSD image for taxpayers. Also as critical as you are Michael Boyd really does not mince words when it comes to SCASD

    • Sanjeev M says:

      Yes, but Michael Boyd likes to purposely scare small airports in many different ways, so that they then hire him as a consultant…

      SCASD is one of the many government programs where those not familiar with the industry are going to be critical of wasteful expenditure when in reality it could be beneficial for the economy and society.

  9. Chicago Chris says:

    Thanks for putting this together. As a resident near South Bend, I know that town’s really wanted something going west for a while and only got it in the form of Allegiant to Mesa…not exactly going to bring in those Irish fans. I think there’s huge potential in that route, but it was likely delayed because of Frontier’s bankruptcy.

    If I remember correctly they semi-announced the route just ahead of the filing and then did it again with more fanfare just recently. In any case, Frontier must see something because they’re using the A320 instead of a contracting it with an E-190.

    Finally, I also tip my hat to Dubuque for not dealing with the Allegiant beast. Kudos for standing up for your airport, its budget and the taxpayers. It will bite your hand off when they smell food.

  10. Wes says:

    BZN-EWR on a 319… I do believe that takes over the top spot on my list of “oddest/most un-expected city pairs. Step aside XNA-EWR/LGA.

    Speaking of, the driving force behind XNA service is easy to figure out (Wal Mart). What about BZN? What is located in BZN that I am not aware of?

    • CF says:

      Wes – It’s just a Saturday-only summer seasonal service so it’s really aimed at leisure travelers going to Montana for summer vacation. I will be really curious to see how it does, but we won’t see that data for a little while.

      You and Nick can read the proposal here:
      http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOT-OST-2011-0119-0020

      • Wes says:

        Thanks CF, I will be interested to see how it does as well. I enjoy looking at odd routes, and this is one I never would have imagined would come to fruition.

    • Wes. It’s the launch site of the first Warp capable spacecraft. So it’s got a huge tourism draw.

      (I should stop relying on movies for my history lessons.)

      • Wes says:

        I reckon the “Saturday-only” part of this should have clued me in. I was previously thinking (as I often do) that the route surely had some sort of corporate tie-in. As far as leisure travel, I could have seen Montana residents going to NY. But New Yorkers going to Montana for vacation? I didn’t know such a thing occurred. (Again, admittedly, I know nothing at all about Montana)

        • Montana is beautiful! It almost made up for the desolation that is Kansas on my drive to Seattle from the midwest, but not quite. I wouldn’t wish exile there on a majority of my enemies.

          I’m quite sure that there is more than enough demand for a weekly A319.

        • MeanMeosh says:

          Don’t forget that BZN is only about 85 miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. A couple hours further gets you to Grand Teton/Jackson Hole. And it’s also within spitting distance of Glacier. And as Nick points out, the area around Bozeman is incredibly beautiful in its own right. Just doing my totally unscientific survey of out-of-state license plates from the East Coast when I drive up that way, I’d have to imagine there’s at least some demand. At least in theory, a once-a-week service makes sense, since you realistically need about that much time if you’re going National Park-ing. We’ll see if it works, though.

  11. Why’d Bozeman want a NYC flight? It’d seem that there wouldn’t be enough demand for that, and any demand could easilly be funneled through SLC, DEN, DTW, or MSP…

    • Ah, well from the regulations.gov filing “New York is currently Bozeman?s 6th largest O&D passenger market, and the largest market without nonstop service.” At least its a reasonably logical combo and not from the VX planning department.

  12. Just one note about Lewiston ME. I worked for Bar Harbor/Eastern Express from 1984-1986 and we had service to Lewiston from BOS, PWM, BGR and AUG, with good connections in BOS. The load factors were extremely low. The service only made money because we had USPS and cargo contracts. Most passengers drove to PWM.

  13. CF says:

    I just updated the post. St Cloud just locked down Allegiant service today, so that’s one more winner that has been able to get service.

  14. Jim says:

    Wait, so I don’t get this. Will the federal government approve a grant without a commitment from the airline? Why don’t they require a letter of support from the airline itself, and that way can save the grant money for airports that will actually use it?

    • CF says:

      Jim – Most of these do have letters of support from airlines, and that does factor into the grant award, but it doesn’t ever guarantee the service will start. It’s just a letter of support.

  15. Mike says:

    Any news on Allentown, PA (ABE)? The airport has mostly regional service, but there are mainline flights on Allegiant (Orlando-Sanford, Tampa, Myrtle Beach), US Airways (CLT), and Frontier (MCO). The airport has been dying to get more mainline service.

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