The 2012 SCASD Grants are Out and There are Some Deserving Winners

Government Regulation

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.

SCASDP Applications

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]

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29 comments on “The 2012 SCASD Grants are Out and There are Some Deserving Winners

  1. Block Island has a crazy short runway – what kind of aircraft does Cape Air need to fly to it? Brittan-Norman Islanders are flying there now, I wonder if Tecnam P2012 under development could fly this route…

    1. I was thinking it probably was an Islander that Cape Air was talking about. The runway is about 2,500 feet long both there and at Culebra. It’s crazy short.

    1. Nick – I’m assuming they went with Albuquerque because that’s the closest place that has access to the national transportation system and can support such frequency. It’s 300 miles to Denver and 375 to Phoenix so the kind of small airplane they’re talking about here would take forever to go that far and wouldn’t be able to fly very often. At least, that’s my guess.

      1. It seems to me like a connection to a hub like DEN or PHX would make more sense, though American Eagle does serve LAX and DFW from nearby Santa Fe. I almost wonder if extending the Rail Runner Express to serve Los Alamos would be a better option than supporting air service to ABQ.

        1. RailRunner, up the mountain to Los Alamos? It would cost 100 times as much to put new track up there as it would to improve the airport and fly 9 flights a day. As small as that airport is, a C208 or Twin Otter is about as big as you could get in there, and I’d hate to fly a 208 2 hours to Denver. ABQ makes the most sense.

    2. Years ago I had a project which required me to go to Los Alamos. At that time they did have air service to Albuquerque. It was with a Twin Otter. That’s about the max that airport can handle. Los Alamos is on top of a Mesa, with the airport at the edge of the Mesa. You land toward a very near Mountain, and take off the other way into open space. Don’t know about you, but a Twin Otter, or today maybe a PC-12 to PHX or DEN doesn’t sound so good.

      1. Ah that does make sense. Although, given this is Los Alamos, they should start investigating high power, laser powered slingshot capsules. I’m quite sure one of those could reach DEN. (And with all the land around DEN there is enough space for a landing..)

  2. Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines, but it looks like even Newport News doesn’t have too much faith in People Express if they asked for help attracting flights.

    1. I would guess that Newport News is just hedging its bets. It has to realize that startup is far from assured, so it should be trying every avenue.

  3. Before you push Cape Air’s idea you should consider what that would do to the local Westerly – Block Island Carrier, New England Air, that has been providing the Island with YEAR ROUND service without subsidy.

    1. tony – It’s true, it does have the potential to hurt that existing service. But that service just gets people to the mainland and doesn’t connect them into anything. So it’s great for getting back and forth but not much else. But there is risk, you’re right.

    1. Chris – I haven’t gone through and looked at the current state of each one. What usually happens is that some never get used, others start and fail, and then a rare few survive.

  4. Doesn’t seem right to give money to airports that already have service. If there was a need, wouldn’t airlines fly there already or not drop service.

    Seems that locals or companies with business in a certain area should be helping to get service and not all the tax payers in American.

    1. Airlines are reasonably risk adverse in starting new markets. SCASD lowers that barrier. I’d much rather have this than EAS. SCASD is temporary and is more about the government boot strapping service startup..

  5. I live in Los Alamos so I am sorta happy to see these flights. I sorta would have liked to see a flight to DEN just because of better connecting options, but I will take the flights anyways.

  6. Is there any truth to Family Airlines flying their new 747 from San Jose, CA to San Jose Costa Rica? It’s a new gimmick! Later, flights from Monterrey CA to Monterrey Mexico. With live performers on board! The taxpayers will support it!

  7. The logic of the Los Alamos application escapes me. The claims are as follows: Until 1996 air service was subsidized by the Department of Energy, and was successful. Then DoE stopped the subsidy, and service disappeared. Now we need just a 1-year subsidy, and this will bring service to a level where it can support itself without subsidy.

    This just doesn’t compute. They also claim that for the first year, they need a $39 ticket price + $59 subsidy = $98 per leg, but then once the subsidy is gone the flights are sustainable at $55 per leg. This sounds very creative.

    A second argument is that the subsidy will save the Federal Government money: many of the prospective users are traveling on government business, and the cost of subsidizing regular service is lower than the cost of the incremental travel expenses incurred by the absence of regular service (such as extra nights on the road). This is an argument for a permanent subsidy, but not of the EAS type: it’s not a quality-of-life subsidy, but rather a way to reallocate Federal travel dollars with an overall saving to taxpayers. Pretty much like the original, pre-1996 DoE subsidy. If the numbers are correct, then the government should find a way to get this to work — perhaps through some interdepartmental program where other departments reimburse DoE for their share of travel to Los Alamos. But this doesn’t sound like a good argument for using SCASD funds, since it does not suggest that the flights can become self-sufficient.

    1. I think the logic on the first year subsidy is that the load factors will be low at first, but will grow to a self sustaining level..

      But how far of a drive is it to ABQ? It can’t drive up the amount the feds need to reimburse employees that much..

      1. A 2-hour drive compared to a 20-minute flight; this could mean the difference between leaving for home in the evening and spending another night (with hotel and meal expenses). The example they give in the application is somewhat different — government facilities elsewhere in New Mexico and Texas, which are conceivably day trips with air service, but overnight trips (or even two-night trips) without.

  8. Seriously? Los Alamos? Why not drive the 35 miles to Santa Fe, and develop the airport there, there’s no way you’ll reduce prices with a little service here and a little service there. Heck, lots of people in big cities live 20+ miles from the airport.

    There are much much larger places like Everett WA are 40 miles from their nearest serviced airport (with much more difficult traffic); and I have friends in Omak WA that are hours from the nearest serviced airport.

  9. So Sioux City receives EAS money, then additional money to “market” the subsidized service, and you see that as OK? The big change is you’ll now make your connections in ORD, instead of MSP and that will make all the difference in viability, so we want you to know it and suddenly the service becomes self-sustaining…In this time of belt tightening, I find it a bit off putting.

    1. Yes, I do see that as ok. It’s not just a changing hub. That means a whole different level of connectivity at different times to different places. When something changes like that, it’s good to let people know so they can make sure to come back and look.

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