3 Links I Love: The Decline in Short-Haul Flying, All Hail the DC-3, Evacuating an A380

Links I Love

This week’s featured link:
What Caused Short Haul Traffic Decline in the US? – the $34b QuestionLinkedIn
One of the more remarkable changes in the last 15 years has been the huge decline in short haul flying within the US. There are a lot of theories why, and in this article, Courtney Miller from Bombardier takes a look at some of them. He focused on the dramatic drop in Dallas to Houston and has a bunch of drool-worthy graphs, facts, and figures.

Two for the road:
Why the DC-3 is Such a Badass PlanePopular Mechanics
Amen. We just lost our last DC-3 here in Long Beach, the place where many were built. But as a testament to the incredible sturdiness of this airplane, the ones we had aren’t even going to the scrap heap. They’re being refitted to work in Africa.

A380 Evacuation TestYouTube
I wrote about evacuation tests earlier this week. Now you can see one for yourself. Here’s the test they had to do on the A380. All those well-prepared, thin, and determined participants really don’t seem like your average group of passengers. Then again, maybe the idea is that if they can get out in 90 seconds then normal people can get out in 5 minutes and that’s good enough.

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17 comments on “3 Links I Love: The Decline in Short-Haul Flying, All Hail the DC-3, Evacuating an A380

  1. I wish the US3 spent more time encouraging the USG to disengage militarily in the ME than complaining about the ME3. I know I drive more often in the under 600 distance than I otherwise would, and choose driving to drive to slightly less desirable locations than flying to further more desirable ones. The terrorists tell us they kill because we meddle and kill over there.

    “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” TJ (I do understand the disconsonance since he sent Marines “To the shores of Tripoli”.)

    1. To the downvoter and any likeminded, maybe the lost rev on short-haul was more than made-up for by the numerous airline military charters I flew both domestically and to Kuwait to help defend the Emir, that paragon of virtue, and bring freedom to the Iraqis. Those flights often deadheaded back to the Land of the Free.

  2. The article on the decline of short haul travel leaves out one huge reason for the shift in passenger trvael lnegths, the Regional Jet. An example could be shown in New England. A lot of the flights from Bangor and Portland, ME, or Burlington, VT used to head to Boston or NYC due to the limited range of propellor aircraft. The rise of the RJ, which started in the mid 90’s and gained speed after 2000, allowed passengers in these cities to instead fly to CLT, ATL, DTW, or ORD (and formerly CVG) instead of connecting through Boston or NYC. Other short hall flights such as Rockland, ME or Bar Harbor, ME to Boston have disappeared, accelerated by the removal of 19 and 30 seat propellor aircraft, bye bye Brasilias and Beechcraft 1900s. These passengers now have to fly out of Portland or Bangor, increasing the pool of people now connecting through a longer distance hub instead of Boston or NYC. This consolidation of traffic from smaller fragmented cities to fewer regional airports has occurred around the country. Examples can also be seen in the decline of service for BFL, FAT, and SBA to LAX, and even really short haul flights such as SNA-LAX and ONT-LAX that UA used to fly. Each of these has gained more nonstop service to more distant hubs, which in this example can be a mix or RJs or mainline for added nonstop destinations. The end or reduction in fences around airports, such as the Wright Ammendment sunsetting has led to a significant decline in Southwest’s short haul service from DAL as they redeploy their gate capacity to mid-haul routes to the coasts. Long haul at DCA came through a mixture of added slots and those converted from likely short haul service. I keep thinking of added reasons that have contributed to this shift.

    1. All true and I would add one other thing. The demand is just fundamentally gone. Business travel has always driven the airlines profitability and drive into smaller markets, along with government subsidies. Its my take that there is substantially less fundamental need to travel to BCD county markets, for a couple of reasons: anchor business has departed – we’ve lost and continue to lose manufacturing base, which was often located in low cost non-A county markets. Remote offices or markets are far better connected due to technology. Tons of fat has been cut from companies due to rounds of never ending restructurings (or never existed) and travel expense is always a target. It used to be that one or two really strong companies could sustain some service in smaller markets – -one example being Modesto CA, with one of the biggest wine operations in the world (sorry Trump Charlottesville not even close), plus major CA govt/agricultural ops there, had scheduled service for years. One example but there are many others. I can recall flying from ORD to West Lafayette, IN !

  3. The problem with choosing the year 2000 as a baseline is that you can’t see if the decline started at that point, or was a continuation of a longer trend.

    Also take note of the comments to the article, where people rightly point out additional factors — for example, the abolition of the national 55 mph speed limit made it feasible to drive longer distances.

  4. The Dallas/Houston example of short haul flying is the wrong analysis in my opinion. Sure, they are big cities that are relatively close but I’d say almost too close because yes, there is the hassle factor that can make driving just as easy. As mentioned in the article they are also very car dependent cities. I’d rather look at an analysis of cities in the NE corridor – BOS, NYC, PHL, DC since you have real options of planes, trains and automobile.

    I do think the CRJ does have a big role in this as well. For example a small airport I have experience flying into – FAR. Nearest hub airport is MSP 500 miles. If you go with what Wikipedia has for the passengers to those three cities it almost equals the traffic to MSP. Prior to the CRJ all those people were connecting in MSP due to lack of alternative options since UA or AA weren’t flying mainline up to a small city without a ton of O/D demand.

    1. But the northeast corridor is a very atypical part of the USA in that it is the most dense and is the one section of the country where intercity rail services are a very competitive option. Outside of this corridor, it’s basically driving versus flying. In other words, the NEC not representative enough of the overall US market to be a good example for such a study. Dallas/Houston is actually better.

      As someone who lives in the Midwest, I can tell you that my calculus changes with each increase in TSA gropage. At this point, my calculus is:driving if the one way is 6 hours or less and flying if it is more. That number used to be 3.5 hours. So, now I will tend to drive to STL or DTW, whereas I always flew in the past. Rail, by the way, is not vialble – Amtrak takes some 7-8 hours from downtown Chicago to Detroit, while you can drive it in 4.5 hours. And that’s assuming that you need to go from downtown to downtown. If you live in the suburbs, that’s not representative either. So Amtrak is not an intercity option for the majority of consumers in much of the country.

      My personal perspective is that the avoidance of short-haul flights is more due to the hassle factor versus other reasons.

    2. Now these routes are just uneconomic/too thin for any RJ at this point. Fares aren’t much higher (if at all after adjusting for inflation) from 20-30 years ago, fuel is higher, and there isn’t demand. RJ just too inefficient, the 45-50 seaters will be gone soon and you cant run a jet shuttle with 80-100 seats sna-lax or dfw-hou. Airlines will only pay so much for feed.

      Now what I would be interested to know, is more about the economics of an advanced prop like the ATR 72. I rode one (a 600) last year on EI, EDI-DUB and was shocked at how relatively quiet it was, and generally comfortable (wider cabin) – I’d choose it over the nightmarish ERJ-145 any day. Time penalty is minimal on the shorter routes, range pretty healthy at up to 700ish miles. But plane has zero traction in US, I’d love to know why.

  5. Personally, I think regulators should consider more realistic evacuation scenarios. At least three people should be drunk, half the bathrooms should be in use, and every other person should be trying to grab their rollerboard. It might not be ideal, but it’s more reflective of how these situations play out.

    1. I think Cranky got it right in one brief line above. Evacuation in 90 seconds under optimal conditions doesn’t *need* to imply a 90-second time in the real world. It just needs to bear some consistent, proportional relation to real-world evacuation times. If all existing configurations pass the 90-second threshold, then we assume that they’ll all post similar, acceptable, real-world times.

      1. We aren’t in disagreement. I just think these simulations would be more relevant if they tried to reflect more realistic conditions instead of starting from an ideal scenario and making assumptions downward for what people would actually experience.

  6. First one is definitely an interesting read.
    Seeing the Houston-Dallas bullet train project starting to pick up again, wonder if it will drive people away from aircraft between these two cities even more once it starts service.
    Their goal seems to be 90min for the trip, which would only be slightly more than what it is currently on an aircraft.

    1. Between Tokyo and Osaka, there are two camps- those that fly and those that take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). Each camp has their reasons and approach a religious zeal in why they have chosen their transportation mode. The two cities are about 500 km (around 300 miles) apart. Driving is around seven hours. The fastest Shinkansen service is 2.5 hours. Non-stop flights are one hour. Very few people (relatively speaking) drive the route.

  7. I wonder if the expiration of the Wright Amendment and completion of the Love Field terminal renovations distorted the Houston-Dallas figures. My impression (not backed by statistics) is that WN scaled back activity at HOU when that happened, since DAL is a more direct connecting point for east-west (or northeast-southwest) traffic than HOU. There may well have been Dallas O&D traffic that used to connect through Hobby but is now served directly.

    1. gregm- The full repeal of the Wright Amendment didn’t happen until 2014, so it was at the tail end of this analysis.

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