It’s Time for 2013 Small Community Air Service Development Week

One of my favorite pastimes is reviewing the annual Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grants handed out by the government. I’ve devoted an entire week to this in the past, and that’s why it’s called SCASD week, but this time I’m sticking with the truncated two day-version. (Why let reality spoil a good name?) Today I’ll look at four of the applications that I thought were worth mentioning. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the four that stood out as the best and the worst. That’s one that I love and three that I hate, to be exact. Let’s get to it.

SCASDP Applications

Unlike the Essential Air Service program, this program actually requires real justification for the funds. And the money is meant to provide temporary funding for a specific project to help grow air service in places that are struggling. The idea is that with a funding jump-start, that will give them the kick they need to succeed on their own. The program doesn’t cost very much. The 25 winning airports will cost just shy of $11.5 million in total funding. And the results can be great.

My favorite success story is Sonoma, north of San Francisco. It had no air service, got funds to attract Alaska Airlines, and has been successful. It now has sustainable service to several cities without government support. Not all of these do well, of course, but for such a small amount of money, any kind of a success rate seems worthwhile to me.

Most of the applications are really boring, probably because so many airports use the same consulting firms to put them together. That means so many look the same; just with a different name on the front. But there are always a few that stand out to me, and I like to highlight those. Here are the four that I thought were worth mentioning in alphabetical order. I’ve also noted whether I liked them and whether the applications were accepted.

Appleton, Wisconsin – Thumbs Up from Me, Thumbs Down from the Feds
Appleton has decent service today with flights to four hubs along with Allegiant flying to four leisure spots. But it has lost service to Milwaukee and Denver and is concerned it will lose more. Instead of trying to subsidize new service as most airports do, Appleton wants to invest in bringing down the costs it has to charge airlines to do business. That’s a smart strategy.

Appleton wants to put in a shared-use passenger processing system that would allow any carrier to come in and be ready to start flying very quickly from an IT perspective. It also gives flexibility around which airlines use which gates because there aren’t dedicated systems everywhere. I like this kind of plan, but I’m apparently alone in that. The feds shot it down.

Sanford, Maine – Thumbs Up from Me, Thumbs Up from the Feds
Sanford is a little town wedged in 30 miles from Portland, 65 miles from Manchester and 90 miles from Boston. You might think you know where this is going. Sanford wants its own flights, right? Nope. It wants to study bus service.

Sanford wants to do a big study looking at what kind of bus service to nearby airports would work and be financially viable. It’s paying a quarter of the cost and just needs $34,000 from the feds to do this. That’s nothing, and it could be valuable for other smaller cities trying to figure out the best way to connect people into the national air transportation system. I like that kind of thinking, so I’m all for it. Turns out, the feds liked it as well.

Trenton, New Jersey – Thumbs Down from Me, Thumbs Down from the Feds
This one just seems goofy. Trenton has had spotty air service for a long time, but now it looks like it may have something sustainable with Frontier. And Frontier, fresh with a new owner is in a good place to expand. These are good times for Trenton, so why does it want help?

Apparently it thinks it needs more bus service into town and to the train station to help grow passenger numbers. Trenton has no money to do that so it’s asking for federal funds. It seems to me that if it’s so vital to provide this service to keep Frontier in town, the city should find a way to pay for it. It doesn’t seem like something the feds should have to deal with. The feds felt the same way as this one was denied.

Wilmington, North Carolina – Thumbs Down from Me, Thumbs Up From the Feds
Wilmington had nonstop service from Chicago from American for only 9 months. It did so poorly that American pulled out. Now, Wilmington claims that American admitted it pulled out too quickly, and it wants $750,000 from the feds to help bring the flight back.

If it didn’t work before, why will it work now? They say they needed more time, but most of the programs being proposed last only for a year. That’s not much more time at all. It seems to me that if the service didn’t work out of the gate initially, it’s not something worth receiving more funds unless the locals decide they want to do it. The feds disagree, apparently. They funded this program. If the American/US Airways merger goes through, I wonder if the flight will ever start since the combined airline will already have strong service into Charlotte, Philly, and Washington, DC.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit my favorite proposal, as well as my three least favorite.

[Original photo via Flickr user Jeff Samsonow]

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