It’s that time of the year again. The federal government has handed out is Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grants and I’ve finally finished going through them all. What do I think? As always, there were some worthy wins this year and others that, um, were not so worthy. Today, we’ll look at the ones that I think are smart investments. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at those that have me shaking my head.
The point of the program is to provide funding to help start or support routes to small cities. There were a couple of overriding themes in the 61 grant applications this year. The first was the rush of applications from small communities that lost service from AirTran, desperate to replace it. When Southwest bought AirTran, it shed a ton of small cities. And it really shows in many of the applications this year.
The other trend is the rise of requests by communities expecting to take advantage of the oil boom in the US – it’s either shale, natural gas, or something else that’s going to change things. They think they need new service to support this.
After looking at the 33 winners, here’s a look at some of the ones that I liked.
Williamsport and the Oil Boom
I’m a real sucker for communities that are in the middle of change. If something material has happened to change the outlook on air service, then this grant can really help. That can be something like the supposedly booming oil business in Williamsport, PA. They say they need connections to Texas and Oklahoma where the oil people are and their current service from US Airways doesn’t get them much in that direction. They want United to Dulles.
If it’s actually booming (and I don’t know for sure), then this seems smart. The problem is Williamsport isn’t alone in saying it needs this service. Youngstown, Ohio, for example, says the same as do many others. Both of these towns got the grant, so we’ll see how it goes.
Sioux City Doesn’t SUX
Another kind of change is a change in the type of service at an airport. Sioux City for example, lost its Delta service to Minneapolis and instead now has American to Chicago. That’s a big change and it wants money to help market the changes to the locals. I do support these kind of grants, so I was glad to see Sioux City score a win.
Allegiant in Ogden and St Augustine
Some of the grants seemed almost like no-brainers since they were the lynchpin in getting new service. These usually involve Allegiant. That sounds strange because Allegiant really doesn’t do revenue guarantees or short term deals, but Allegiant does require a local marketing effort when it comes to a town. Both in Ogden, Utah and St Augustine, Florida, that’s exactly what happened. Allegiant effectively says it will come and the cities want help to fund their marketing programs. They got the grants.
The Los Alamos Shuttle
Lastly, there were a couple of quirky grants that I just can’t help but like for their creativity. One was from Los Alamos, New Mexico. The government-run Los Alamos National Laboratory has some of the smartest scientific minds in the world. They are two hours away from Albuquerque’s airport, but I’d rather have them spending more time on important work than on driving back and forth to an airport.
It’s not like the scientists in town chose to live there – that’s where the feds put the lab. To me, this really should be an Essential Air Service route, but for various reasons (as detailed in the application), it’s not eligible. So for lack of a better option, SCASD it is. They want 9 flights a day to Albuquerque. Normally I’d think that’s crazy, but in this special case, it seems like a good idea to make them as productive as possible.
The Unlikely Partnership of Block Island and Culebra
The other quirky one is a joint deal between Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island and Culebra off the coast of Puerto Rico. Wait, what? Yeah, it’s a great partnership. In fact, this might be my favorite application of the year.
Both towns have short runways with operational limitations but as islands, both rely on air service. Unfortunately, they each have air service to other small towns so it doesn’t quite connect them into the national network. Meanwhile, both are counter-seasonal, so combined they should make for decent year-round demand. The cherry on top? Cape Air is interested in serving the markets from Providence and San Juan respectively but it needs different aircraft with short field capability. It wants a little help in getting a new aircraft type up and running, and now it will get that help. This could lead to a bunch more opportunities for Cape Air around the US.
That’s it for my favorites. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the other side … the ones that make no sense to me.
[Original photo via Flickr user Jeff Samsonow]