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

Government Regulation

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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21 comments on “It’s Time for 2013 Small Community Air Service Development Week

  1. Is it just me but the places that want to try new and innovative things are shot down because it looks risky or is outside airlines past practices.

  2. Bus service for Trenton really feels goofy. They should’ve asked for money to reopen the West Trenton Line (former Reading line), which would bring train service right to the airport :-)

  3. I know sorta off topic but its sorta on topic, I wounder how the airports who won EAS money like my home GA airport KLAM are doing. From what I can tell our three flights appear to do well

  4. So something with ‘air service’ in it’s name can include buses and trains?

    Seems if local residents and business wanted bus/train service to an airport, or more of it, they would be ok with a local tax hike to pay for it. They would be paying the price anyway for federal funds since the money comes from tax dollars. At least with a local tax hike, they could control the funds better then if the feds where looking over their shoulder.

    1. Agree 100%. If the city/county surrounding TTN is too broke/stupid to invest in mass transit links to an airport that now has (somewhat) meaningful service for the first time in a generation, they will deserve the inevitable result when Frontier’s new owners realize they are losing money there. How much can it cost to divert a few buses from existing runs to beef up connections to the airport? Sad, really.

  5. I think the TTN bus service might have something to do with the limited parking available, and the limited amount of spaces they are able to build in the future. When I flew in there they were pretty scarce as people were parking in the grass. The only shot that TTN has in preventing leakage to PHL/EWR because TTN landside is maxed out is to provide bus service to where there are other parking resources, i.e. downtown, bus/train stations, etc.

    This is just an assumption – somebody else might know more about it. I don’t live in Trenton.

  6. I suppose a better tactic to all this is:

    “Approve our SCASD proposal (or, our EAS demand) or we’ll shut down the government.”

    The possibilities seem endless.

  7. Brett – You are spot on with respect to ATW. An airline’s facility costs to start air service are significant, if there is no common use system; and with a few exceptions, such start-up facility costs do not fluctuate wildly among airports (leaving marketing costs aside, for the sake of this discussion). So, low-frequency and less-than-daily operators (you know, the kinds that are actually taking incremental capacity to small hub airports) have a hard time justifying the risk/reward at a smaller community with fewer potential customers when they can invest a similar amount somewhere larger with more potential customers. A common use system – not inexpensive to install, mind you – can make a meaningful, permanent difference in how airlines view the attractiveness of smaller communities. The Feds absolutely should prefer programs (like ATW’s) that would permanently reduce barriers to entry for all carriers, to programs that provide a one-time offset to a particular carrier.

    1. I understand applying for “free” money that the Feds have made available but if going to a common use system is a draw for more airlines, the local airport authorities and municipalities should determine a way to fund it.

      1. Bill from DC – By that logic, the entire SCASD grant program should be abolished. If that’s your point, fair enough. Otherwise, as long as the program exists, we should all want maximum utility from the funding; and which is a better – a one-time payment to a carrier that does nothing to address part of the root cause (barriers to entry) while temporarily distorting the competitive landscape, or a one-time investment in an airport that actually addresses part of the root cause?

        1. Actually, since they didn’t get SCASD funding, I guess we’ll see how important it is to ATW to see if they pay for it themselves. My post said that it was wise to try to seek this funding since it is available (whether or not it should be available was intentionally avoided).

          I agree the ATW project would be a better use of those funds than giveaways to airlines but a systems upgrade should also be part of the airport’s capital spending budget process much like physical plant, runways and taxiways, etc. and not reliant on a one-time federal funding.

  8. I use Appleton quite a bit. It is a great little airport but certainly can use some coverage outside of Delta’s presence. Luring American with flights to DFW or helping United expand to beyond ORD would be a big plus.

    1. Given that Governor Walker has been refusing federal DOT money for Wisconsin infrastructure projects during his administration, especially federal programs like this one, I’m starting to wonder if the USDOT has pretty much given up on WI.

      Under Walker, WI became the only state in the country to not receive a TIGER grant and the state has never put in a request for TIFIA funds, despite his advocacy of highway expansion and privatization.

      1. Pretty much he has been willing and able to starve federal funding, ostensibly complaining about national debt yadda yadda yadda. Ignore, for a moment, that the money is already on the table and you might as well take advantage of it.

    2. CUTE at ATW would be a waste of money right now. While it’s my home airport and I don’t like watching money go by the wayside, I’d rather have it spent when it’s needed than on frivolous things right now. The terminal needs a major facilities upgrade, and CUTE isn’t it. Sure, it’s part of it, but there are tons of things that the general public doesn’t see there that scares airlines away.

  9. I absolutely love the idea of a city creating meaningful use bus and train routes that connect airports to city centers. And I especially love the idea of small cities connecting to large airports via bus/train service. I’m really not trying to be sarcastic here, but can somebody outline for me why simply studying bus service would cost a city in excess of $30,000?? That part has me scratching my head.

    1. Consultants are expensive. I know – I’m a consultant. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. It ain’t cheap to bring in outside resources to conduct a specialized study for you.

  10. I came here to criticize Sanford, then I read it was bus service. Not the worst idea, given the high fares out of PWM. Bus service to MHT or BOS would be helpful – Concord Coach Lines serves the I-95 corridor north of Portland all the way down to BOS, $45 round trip, and it’s a nice deal when PWM can’t get fares down at all. It’s a real shame, PWM has a really nice, modern terminal, service from every legacy except AA plus WN, to essentially all of their hubs ORD and east. Fares are just pretty high compared to BOS or MHT, which are realistic alternatives just 2 hrs away.

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