27 Small US Cities Have Air Service on the Chopping Block

As I scrolled the list of cities that would no longer qualify for Essential Air Service earlier this month, I felt that same helpless frustration that always hits me when the topic of small city air service comes up. Air service to small cities has gotten worse nearly across the board for the last couple decades, and nobody seems to have any solutions. Looking at these 27 cities, however, can help explain a lot about why this is happening.

To remain in the Essential Air Service program, airports that aren’t completely remote (so, not in Alaska) have to enplane at least 10 passengers per day and require a subsidy of less than $200 per passenger (still quite a tidy sum). These 27 airports failed the test using 2016 numbers:

Alamosa (CO) Hagerstown (MD) Macon (GA) Pueblo (CO)
Altoona (PA) Imperial (CA) Mason City (IA) Salina (KS)
Bradford (PA) Jackson (TN) Muscle Shoals (AL) Scottsbluff (NE)
Clarksburg (WV) Jamestown (NY) Owensboro (KY) Tupelo (MS)
DuBois (PA) Johnstown (PA) Parkersburg (WV) Vernal (UT)
Ft Dodge (IA) Kearney (NE) Pendleton (OR) Victoria (TX)
Franklin/Oil City (PA) Lancaster (PA) Prescott (AZ)

Not all of them are on here for the same reason, nor will all actually lose service. Here’s why.

The (Un)Lucky 8
The towns of Pueblo and Macon failed to enplane 10 passengers a day while Muscle Shoals, Imperial, Pueblo, Salina, Tupelo, Pendleton, and Vernal required subsidies of more than $200 per passenger. For that reason, they should be out of the program, but they get a stay of execution. Why? Because they had lost their previous service and were in a period of transition while a new operator was found.

This is an increasingly common problem in these small cities. It’s rare that even a traditional regional airline is willing to fly to these cities, because they’re all too busy scrambling to find pilots to fly jets on bigger routes for partner airlines. SkyWest, for example, removed itself from many routes when it stopped flying its Brasilia turboprops. That has left really tiny operators to fill the void.

In some cases, these airlines do have relationships with larger airlines to bridge the gap to the rest of the world. Great Lakes, for example, is one of those. But Great Lakes has become unreliable at best and has shrunk dramatically because it simply doesn’t have enough pilots. It is not alone. Other airlines, like now-bankrupt SeaPort, haven’t been able to put together a viable business thanks to the many hurdles that are out there. And some like Boutique Air may be able to provide service but they are isolated from the rest of the global travel network and can’t interline bags and people. The state of affairs has left some cities, like Macon, with no service at all in 2016 despite the subsidy being available. It now has flights from Contour Airlines to Baltimore, so apparently DOT will wait and see how that goes.

This means service shifts a lot, and carriers go in and out providing no consistency. For these 8 cities, DOT has decided to give them another chance.

The Empty 6
Altoona, Bradford, DuBois, Franklin/Oil City, Jamestown, and Victoria all failed to enplane 10 passengers a day. For most, it wasn’t even close, though Bradford and DuBois almost cracked the 9 passenger mark.

With the exception of Victoria, these are all Rust Belt towns that have seen their industrial economies dry up. They’re also very close to other options. Jamestown and Bradford are only 75 miles from Buffalo. Franklin is 85 miles from Pittsburgh while Altoona and DuBois are 110 miles away. That doesn’t sound very far, but it’s actually far worse than that.

Take Altoona (please, *rimshot*). The city of Altoona is 20 miles north of its own airport, but it’s also only 40 miles south of State College. State College is an airport that has commercial service from several airlines, but it too has struggled. Why should the government be funding flights in Altoona that only hurt the chances of State College succeeding? There aren’t many people flying from Altoona, but that’s because Southern Airways Express can only fly travelers to Baltimore or Pittsburgh and can’t connect them beyond. Most people are probably already driving to State College since they can get nearly anywhere important with a single stop from there. It’s no wonder that there hasn’t been a lot of demand for this service.

Most of these other cities in the Rust Belt face the same predicament. They step on top of each other and prevent any one airport from being successful.

The Expensive 13
The remaining airports all require a subsidy that’s just too rich for the US government at more than $200 per passenger. I should note that most of The Empty 6 also require too much subsidy, but that’s no surprise when you can’t even muster 10 passengers a day. In fact, they’re the worst offenders with Altoona, the absolute worst, requiring an incredible $734 per passenger.

The worst of the rest is Prescott, Arizona with a $411 per passenger subsidy. (Fun fact: pronounced “press-kit.”) Prescott is actually one of the lucky ones in that it has two daily flights (one on weekend days) to a major hub at LAX. The service is flown by Great Lakes, an airline which has interline agreements with the big 3 airlines and even a codeshare with United. On the surface, this seems like the kind of service that would work, if any would.

But clearly it doesn’t. The city lies only 100 miles north of Phoenix Sky Harbor, and the drive takes less than 2 hours. There’s also a frequent shuttle that’s $37 each way. Once in Phoenix, people can fly nonstop to most of the destinations they care about. And they can do it for cheap. I picked a random day in December and the lowest fare from Prescott to San Francisco via LA was about $300 one way. From Phoenix, it was $100 to go nonstop. Meanwhile, Great Lakes uses an Embraer Brasilia, a fairly large airplane that requires a lot more subsidy than, say, a Cessna Grand Caravan. But at 350 miles, that would be quite the haul for a smaller airplane like the Caravan. If there was a ton of demand, this route might work on less subsidy. But there’s just not enough to spread those costs out.


These are just the worst of the worst. If you look through the EAS program, you’ll see other routes that are failing as well, just not as badly. But these EAS routes may be their own worst enemy, hurting potentially viable service as other nearby airports. With the pilot pool shrinking and options dwindling, something needs to change. It’s just hard to know exactly what and how. In the near future I’ll look at a report that tries to tackle this issue.

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73 Responses to 27 Small US Cities Have Air Service on the Chopping Block

  1. Davey says:

    If the country truly wants to start the process of scaling back government — and government waste — this is one place to start. Macon, GA, for example, is only about an hour from Hartsfield Atlanta, a fact not mentioned anywhere. Likewise, on a busy day, there are parts of Chicago that are further time-wise from ORD than Prescott is from Sky Harbor.

    EAS has the same variables that Amtrak does with many small towns. People in small communities want both EAS and Amtrak. People in small communities scream and holler for EAS and Amtrak. But they don’t want to use it and they sure as heck don’t want to pay for it!

    • Andrew Gray says:

      “Likewise, on a busy day, there are parts of Chicago that are further time-wise from ORD than Prescott is from Sky Harbor.”
      But those parts are closer to MDW, so your comparison kinda falls flat.

      • stogieguy7 says:

        Not necessarily – you’re forgetting the western suburbs like Aurora/Plainfield/Naperville. Those places can easily be 1-2 hours from either airport when traffic is bad. And that represents a lot of people.

        • Davey says:

          Exactly. There is about 900,000 people in DuPage County; 800,000 in Will and only God knows how many in Southern Cook County. Midway is halfway-up the Stevie (Interstate 55 for you out-of-towners) and the reverse flow commute is just about as bad as the conventional commute.

          And we won’t even touch the Tri-State.

  2. Gary Leff says:

    “nobody seems to have any solutions.”

    On the contrary, airports with fewer than 10 passengers per day *even with subsidies* and that have alternate airports within driving distance probably shouldn’t have air service — ESPECIALLY when a pilot shortage means that air service trades off with other flights that could be offered and serve more people.

    In other words, while lamentable on one level, losing air service is the best of all possible worlds considering the tradeoffs.

    Moreover these subsidies redistribute income from median taxpayers to comparably wealthy air passengers and airline investors. That’s hard to defend morally as a priority.

    Ending this sort of air service IS the solution. Though of course we should separately address the pilot shortage.

    • Eric Morris says:

      I wish Congressional staffers would kindly point their bosses to the dictionary definitions of the word “essential”. That should be an essential aspect of this discussion.

  3. RNB says:

    Macon, Georgia (my home town, by the way) isn’t “unlucky.” There’s no market there. MCN is ten miles south of the city of Macon. Since Hartsfield-Jackson International is only about seventy miles north of Macon, driving or taking a shuttle (31 trips/day @ $41) is both cheaper and more convenient for just about everybody. Truthfully, most of the passengers in the old days were Air Force employees traveling on business for Robins Air Force Base at Warner Robins (9 miles south of the airport). My father used to take a plane out of MCN at least once a month back during the Cold War. But that business isn’t there any more. And Boeing closed the little fabrication plant that used to be on the airport property.

    MCN is a perfect example of the unreality of a lot of the routes flown under the EAS program. Back in May, Contour was proposing to provide 12 weekly operations to Dulles (!) on Jetstreams with 30 seats each for $4.7 million a year. Assuming you could find 360 people in the Macon-Warner Robins area wanting to fly to Dulles each week, the per-seat subsidy would be $250. Contour proposed to sell tickets at about $89 each.

    When the subsidy for providing a service is nearly three times what you’re charging for that service, you’re not in the business of providing a service. Your business is the subsidy.

  4. A says:

    This program needs to be scrapped for the lower 48. It just does not make any sense and the proof is in the fact that people aren’t using it. Two example closest to me is Mason City. It’s a little over an hours drive to Waterloo Regional Airport which can take you into MSP or ORD. Otherwise it’s a 2 hour drive just to go straight to MSP or about the same to head down to DSM. Ft. Dodge, IA is in a similar position. Why on earth should the taxpayers subsidize air service for these people. In a major metro it can be 2 hours just to drive to the airport. I’m all in favor of some federal dollars maintaining the airports (runways) for emergency services if needed but for locals to just have less hassle taking a vacation, I don’t think so.

    • Bjorn says:

      Agreed with a small nitpick: Waterloo is also an EAS-subsided airport.

    • Adam says:

      I wouldn’t go so far to say that. If they scrap EAS, the upper peninsula of Michigan would lose all but one of their airports. The only airport in the UP that doesn’t qualify for EAS is Marquette. These are also areas that do not have shuttles to the airport like some of these other airports.

      Some may argue that this is the price you pay for living in the woods….. and I agree for the most part, however, some cities do need it and would dry up even further without air service. Possibly tighter qualifications?

  5. Kilroy says:

    Not sure why/how Lancaster ever qualified for EAS. It’s <80 miles away from both BWI and PHL; many smaller towns would kill to be that close to major airports.

    Jackson, TN is < 90 miles from MEM. Hagerstown, MD is < 90 miles from BWI. The list goes on…

    If a town is within 90 (or even 120) miles of a mid-sized or larger airport, I just don't see EAS working out, and if I had the time, I'd do the analysis and probably find that most of the airports on the list above are within a 2 hour drive of a decent airport. People that far out are used to driving longer distances, even to the airport, and driving 1.5-2 hours each way will generally be much more convenient than trying to work around the infrequent EAS carrier schedules.

    I'm not generally a fan of government subsidies, but I think the only places in the lower 48 that EAS really makes sense from a passenger convenience standpoint are probably Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and the Dakotas, maybe a few others.

    • Neil S. says:

      And 40 minutes from Harrisburg. Takes me longer to get to JFK from Manhattan most of the time.

    • A says:

      Even in the “frontier” of the west I don’t think there are many places in the lower 48 that are more than 2-3 hours drive time from an airport with regular service. Remember those places have no people so it’s not like you really need to account for traffic – weather yes but that would also affect flights so I don’t think it should apply. Mind you I’ve driven across parts of eastern Montana where I put on 100 miles without seeing another car. It’s VAST, but the roads are decent and I could without much trouble get into places like Billings or Great Falls if I needed a flight.

      • Kilroy says:

        I agree. I’m opposed to any government subsidies for air service, personally. If you’re living in an area far from the nearest airport with passenger service, well, that’s just a cost of your choice to live or work in that area, as much as dealing with traffic, public transportation, etc is a cost of choosing to live/work in a major city’s metro area.

        There are carriers offering regularly scheduled flights on smaller planes (30 seats or fewer) out of both private and regular commercial airports, and if the demand is truly there I’m confident that the free market will step in, or local business groups will band together to help subsidize/support/obtain service. If not, as many comments have pointed out, there are often regular bus/van shuttles from small towns to nearby airports for reasonable prices (another example of small business stepping in to fill a service void). Finally, driving several hours to an airport is still so cheap (even if gas is at $4-5 a gallon), and costs so little additional time compared to a flight and a layover, as to make many shorter flights tough to justify.

        • CF says:

          Kilroy – I’m not sure if you also make this same statement about Alaska, but I would argue Alaska is very different. For the lower 48, yes, EAS shouldn’t really be happening in most cases.

          • Kilroy says:

            Cranky,

            I tend to be pretty anti-subsidy on most issues, but to be honest I’m a little conflicted on EAS in Alaska- as much as I hate the idea of government subsidies, it’s tough to pull out air service from communities that have come to rely on it and that are (in general) pretty vulnerable.

            I will agree with you that if there is ANYWHERE that a legitimate case can be made for EAS, it’s Alaska, and that the usual, “You’re only 70 miles away from a decent airport, why do you need EAS?” arguments don’t really apply to Alaska.

            • L-N Davout says:

              The reason I believe in EAS for Alaska is the need. For some places, it’s the only alternative to a boat, or a long, narrow road that freezes over in winter. Some Alaskan cities like that can sustain profitable commercial service (probably including all AS 737 routes), but there are many routes worthy of subsidies.

              In the West, it’s comically not so. MCE (Merced) is within EASY driving distance to FAT, SMF, OAK, SFO, and SJC.

            • Eric Morris says:

              I’m also anti-subsidy. However, constitutionally and as a compromise, I would have much less heartburn over the State of Alaska being the subsidizer. Use the Federal aviation fuel and gas taxes excuse to provide the “temporary” bridge to nowhere until Alaska takes it over completely.

        • CZBB says:

          I’ll offer up Oroville (& Omak) WA which are 2.5 (1.5hr) from the nearest air service in Wenatchee, and 3.5(2.5hr) from Spokane as perhaps a town(s) that needs this sort of thing; but you’re right in saying most of the stuff that’s an hour drive is crazy.

  6. Pilotaaron1 says:

    I think Imperial CA is interesting. Considering Yuma AZ is an hour away with airline service and they are trying really hard to land a second airline or bring back United to LA. It may be different, but I look at that the same way as Altoona/St College.

    • haolenate says:

      Mokulele’s averages actually are within the limits of the EAS program: the SeaPort shortcomings into FY 16 are the reason its on the list. Mokulele has done quite the good job, including marketing to Mexicali & the rest of Baja California.

  7. Robertspd says:

    The EAS program was formed more than 30 years ago and has basically never been changed. While a number of other problems could be cited, two are paramount. First, there is no airplane available to economically serve small cities, and no existing manufacturer interested in building one. Second, two round trips a day does not build a market nor does it provide an operator the ability to fully utilize it’s aircraft. To give market spread enough to reliably attract passengers and achieve good aircraft utilization, there must be a minimum of four daily round trips. Existing aircraft with reasonable economics are too big, and aircraft like the PC-12 are too small and uneconomic.

    • Kilroy says:

      Good point about aircraft size and economics. I know that the general public usually isn’t too fond of turboprops, but personally I’ll take a Dash 80 over a RJ any day.

      Still, as you mentioned, you need at least 2 (ideally 4) RTs per weekday to justify a route and utilize a plane, and ideally several routes using the same larger hub airport… That’s ~120-200 seats to fill daily in each direction, even on the smallest planes, and that’s a tall order for most towns that are within a 2 hour drive of a midsize or larger airport.

  8. Shuttle services seem a lot more practical than expensive short air flights. This is very unwise government spending.

  9. TMartin says:

    The EAS is a poorly managed program, forcing carriers to meet certain requirements instead of the market determining. Generally, there is a minimum number of flights per day/per week. Also, a number of the carriers are poorly managed – they have very little sales staff, no analyst, and are just there to make money off the government. I’m currently working on a report regarding Visalia.

    Visalia itself is a city of 130,000, a decent size city. But Fresno Airport is within 45 minutes. If you look further within a 10 mile radius of Visalia, is Tulare (62,000), and Hanford (55,000, does not include Lemore Naval Air Station). The “Visalia Area” is over 200,000, certainly enough to support air travel. One has to look deeper, though, at the demographics. The median income in Visalia, as in the case in most small/EAS cities, the median income if 15%-20% below the state average. I think many of the carriers forget, these EAS cities tend to be smaller “blue collar” cities with incomes that maybe significantly less than statewide averages.

    The DOT stats, over the years, show stronger than average numbers for VIS. In fact, their strongest load factors were into BUR, SMF, and ONT. I believe travelers from the EAS cities don’t like the mega airports like LAX. BUR and ONT are much easier to navigate and offer convenient connections to just about everywhere in the country.

    My point? For a market like VIS, I believe there is enough “local” traffic to the LA Area, an operator could fly 3-5 times per week. In fact, I would bypass the 5 major airports….I would propose VIS-FUL, if you interested in just local traffic. Fullerton is in the heart of Orange County, and 30 minutes from Downtown LA. With a 9 passenger type aircraft (Caravan or Kodiak), there would be no need for TSA, reducing costs. Fullerton is no stranger to air service, Golden West used to fly FUL to LAX. The most recent airline to fly out of Fullerton was Imperial in the 1980s.

    With the prime location of FUL, I would think other EAS cities could be successful using it as a gateway to LA/Orange County. I believe air service can be saved, but carriers’ need to understand demographics and the market dynamics. For example, I believe PUB could be hugely successful, but the service provided is PUB-DEN (Competing with the car). Allegiant went to LAS, but was not successful – it’s a one way market. I believe PUB-LAX (or BUR) would a very successful. Two to three days per week, there is a market both directions, and it’s not DEN. There is potential profit in some EAS markets, but the airlines must do their homework!

    • Jim says:

      The purpose of EAS is to connect small communities to the national and international air transport networks, not to provide local commuter service. VIS-FUL can easily be done by car or on the bus. There is no reason for the feds to subsidize it, and if they did want to subsidize it, an Amtrak line would be much better. EAS is meant to get people from VIS to NYC or Chicago by giving them a connection into the network, and that can only be done through a major hub like LAX.

      • Ron says:

        There is Amtrak service VIS-FUL, subsidized not by the Feds but by Caltrans. It requires three connections (four segments): first an Amtrak bus from Visalia to Hanford (where the train station is located), and then train-bus-train to Fullerton, using a bus bridge between Bakersfield and L.A. because passenger trains are not allowed through the Tehachapi pass. The latter will change if the California high-speed rail ever gets completed to L.A.

        Of course, since the Amtrak service passes through L.A., there’s no specific need to go through Fullerton to reach points in the L.A. basin.

        • TMartin says:

          Fullerton has a history of airline service from the 1960s-1980s. My point, if one want to build an air taxi type operation hand picking vacated EAS routes to fly, FUL is in a great location to serve all points of the LA/OC Area.

          My original message is I believe some of these EAS cities can be profitable Again, operating a 9 passenger aircraft requires only 1 pilot and no TSA, therefore significantly reducing costs. Using an airport like FUL would have lower costs than BUR or LGB (if your goal is to pick up local traffic).

          • Jim says:

            “My original message is I believe some of these EAS cities can be profitable”

            If that were the case, some airline would have figured it out by now. After so many attempts, if no one has made it work, even with subsidies, then there is probably no market.

        • Jim says:

          Yeah, it’s a pretty ridiculous system on Amtrak. It might be less connections on Greyhound.

      • TMartin says:

        I agree with you, there is no need to subsidies, however, the EAS carriers found more people were just wanting to go to LA as opposed to connecting into the network. SeaPort proved this by opting for BUR instead of LAX. BUR being a “small hub” qualified under EAS. And Mokulele recently moved their SMX service to BUR. My point is, LAX is not the answer.

        In fact, VIS opted out of the EAS and went with the Community Pilot Program – it essentially gives them the money to spend on who they want to. They have the ability to work with a carrier and develop a service. Should VIS want to chose FUL (because of its central location to LA/OC (for local traffic), or choose BUR or LGB for airline connections, its the city’s choice, not the Feds!

        My original point was, some EAS cities could be served profitably without subsidies since the carrier and market could determine schedules and capacity instead of the government. Having lived in the Central Valley for several years, I am familiar with the demographics and trends.

        • Jim says:

          “My original point was, some EAS cities could be served profitably without subsidies”

          LOL. If you’re so sure of that, then start an airline yourself.

        • haolenate says:

          Part of the reason Moku moved ops for Santa Maria to Burbank is also because LAX ops for a west/north departure are a nightmare for them since they go out of partner Alaska’s concourse on the south side; some flights spent more time driving around LAX than they did flight time, which screwed up the schedule for the rest of the day. But now Mokulele can market to people who want to go to the LA Basin for the day/weekend, etc instead of driving in.

          But SMX’s traffic was always connecting to other cities out of LAX on United; And they also have some options nearby whereas Imperial really doesn’t. But IPL is doing better under Mokulele than it did with SkyWest as United Express. Frequency does count here.

    • Matt D says:

      Hey neighbor. Here in Tulare myself. Fascinating perspective. But look at the broader, regional picture: Fresno. That’s an existing much larger market that’s badly underserved. Look as far north as Merced and as far south as Delano and you have a huge chunk of real estate and a lot of people. And very few air travel options. I’d be curious to know-if it were even possible to chronicle-how many travelers there are in that area. And how many of them head straight to LAX/SFO for their needs. And how many would stay local-if only a reasonable low cost option existed. Fresno is caught between a rock and a hard place because of this: there’s little service because there appears to be little traffic. But there’s little traffic because there’s so little air service. Visalia is an interesting satellite airport. I almost wonder if it couldn’t support a few Allegiant flights a week.

      • TMartin says:

        As someone who lived in Turlock for several years, MOD was the best option. In its heyday, there was AA Eagle and United Express. If I couldn’t find a decent fare out of MOD, OAK and SMF were my next option (90 minutes), then SFO and SJC (2 hours). I even flew out of FAT – several options.

        FAT is a beautiful airport, and at some point, service will grow. Regarding VIS, I think service could be viable (despite what some say in previous comments). However, one must understand the market. Service to the LA Area may not be viable because you would compete with the car. Perhaps service to SAN – there would be a good mix of local traffic and connections. And SAN is far enough, you wouldn’t compete with the car.

        Unfortunately, many of the EAS carriers are/were poorly managed and do virtually no market research. The VIS/Tulare/Hanford area has a population of about 200,000, surely enough to support air service, even with FAT one hour north. I would love to see VIA to Phoenix/Mesa by Allegiant!

  10. jim says:

    As a member of the Airport Authority in one of the cities I would love to talk to you about EAS. There are some things that can be done.

    • Kilroy says:

      Cranky, this is a good point. An interview post or podcast with someone from an EAS airport (or a smaller airport struggling to attract/retain commercial pax service) would be very interesting.

    • CF says:

      Jim – I’m happy to chat. Shoot me a note at cf@crankyflier.com.

    • haolenate says:

      The problem is, there is NO incentive by the DOT to the airlines to get these markets off the program. You will never make a market self-sustaining when you are flying around a plane that costs $900/hour and yet only charging $20 – $50 each way. Some markets will forever be “welfare” markets, others have just been on the wrong side of the economic changes in our country. But it would be great if airlines were rewarded for reducing subsidy amounts or increasing passenger counts.

  11. Bob Schilling says:

    This seems to me to argue for a coordinated multi-modal transportation system.  Access to air service seems to me a key element in economic development, which surely is important in at least some of these small cities.  At the same time, they’re not generating enough traffic right now to justify commercial air service.  I wonder, though, how the subsidy numbers would work for a dedicated bus service for small cities up to 100 miles from their nearest regional airport.  Good route planning might allow a single 54-passenger bus to serve two or three such destinations, and the buses could be configured to provide some nice amenities (though that would reduce the capacity).  And some cities – Altoona & Lancaster come to mind – might be candidates for additional rail service with an airport link at the end.  What we need to do is think about our transportation network as a single system, and stop being blind to other modes.  Like so much else, transportation is “better together.”

    • MRY-SMF says:

      It would be an interesting concept if you could check in at a local “terminal”, maybe even check bags and go through security. Then, you board a bus and your bags are loaded into the cargo hold. The bus drives to the airport to a special gate in the secure zone and your tickets and bags are interlined with the airline you’re flying with. If having security at these “terminals” would be cost prohibitive, how about a special checkpoint at the airport for bus passengers. I could see 2 good applications of this:
      1. Big Hub Airports
      These busses would feed large airports from smaller communities within a certain distance. For example, towns in Eastern Pennsylvania would feed into PHL, connecting them to a hub.
      2. Regional Airports
      This could help keep regional airports alive. Look at the Yuma/Imperial Case. Busses could feed in to Yuma, providing service to other communities in the region but concentrating them at one airport that can attract more flight options. Instead of a lot of airports with one flight a day to LAX, you can have one regional hub with flights to many bigger hubs.

      • MRY-SMF says:

        The San Joaquin Valley case described by Spirit FF above is a good example of the regional hub application. FAT is struggling to get more flights and is mostly served by regional jets. Instead of trying to have limited service in Visalia and other cities in the area, bring everyone to Fresno, which will now have the bargaining power and numbers to attract more destinations and bigger aircraft.

        • TMartin says:

          I believe “inter-modal” can be the future of airline travel and the answer to EAS communities. Arizona has done a great job of providing frequent and reliable service from communities to PHX Airport. My son live in PRC, we send him on the Arizona Shuttle to catch his AA flight out of PHX.

          In fact, years ago, America West Airlines had a motorcoach that boarded at the gate and went to Scottsdale. Today, UA offers motorcoach service from ABE to EWR and BPT to IAH.

          Currently, sports charters can clear security at the time they board the bus before leaving the hotel. Once the door has been shut, as long as the door hasn’t been opened/seal broken, they can directly board the plane. Hopefully, something like this can happen with a motorcoach from VIS to FAT (per your example above). Check in, clear security at VIS Airport, travel via motorcoach, direct to a gate at FAT!

          Unfortunately, many of these cities want the glamour of an airplane, instead of the practically of a motorcoach!

      • Bob Schilling says:

        This is an excellent idea.  It requires careful work with TSA to ensure the integrity of the inspected baggage once it’s checked.  An interim step might be to check bags at a remote terminal, seal them, and put them through a second X-ray inspection at the airport.  It’s a laudable goal – you check in in at a terminal in your own small town and then get a pretty much seamless experience beyond that.  It’s a product people might even like, especially if we can get in reasonable headways.  As for feeding hubs, I think I’d favor feeders to smaller airports.  It’s much easier to navigate a hub the size of Pittsburgh or John Wayne than LAX or EWR or even PHL.  And there are fewer traffic delay liabilities.  That said, some service to large hubs might work.  The benefit of this type of service is that it’s not too expensive to try, and if it doesn’t work we can shift assets pretty easily.  It might even be a proving ground for electric or even hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

      • Bjorn says:

        United Airlines runs bus shuttle service from Allentown, PA to EWR. I haven’t used it, but from what I understand passengers from Allentown check their luggage there but do not pass through security until EWR (the bags ride in a secured compartment), while passengers from EWR board the bus behind security like a plane.

        • CF says:

          Funny thing, you can buy a ticket from Philly to Allentown on United and never touch an airplane (train to bus). (Though to be fair, you’d be an idiot to do that since it’s just 50 miles away and you could rent a limo for a whole lot less.)

          United also does this in Beaumont. It’s a bus to Houston, but I don’t know how security works.

      • Brian says:

        Hong Kong has some airline check-in counters at a few of the stops along the Airport Express. It’s extremely easy and convenient to check in and get rid of checked bags before you board the train. However, it requires a great deal of manpower to keep it running smoothly and all of the airlines that participate in this service must staff it like a normal check-in counter at the airport. I don’t think this country could handle that type “dream.” Besides, do you think our LCC or ULCC would participate? What about the big 3 carriers for Basic Economy tickets? Hmm…sounds complicated.

    • Ron says:

      A bus (or multi-modal) network can work in many places, but let’s not add the complications of remote check-in. Remote baggage check-in rarely ever works, because the logistics of redistributing the bags among several airlines are just too complicated. Even with a single airline it’s a challenge and often not worth the effort (think British Airways at Paddington). I can think of rare cases — Tel Aviv used to have a network of off-airport places you could check bags, but that was just because there wasn’t enough physical space in the airport; once the new terminal opened in 2004, the remote services went away. Screening passengers off-site is even worse, because so many things can happen on the road; you’d need to have a security officer travel on each bus, or else wrap the entire bus in cellophane.

      Also, airport shuttle service is fairly poor use of public transportation dollars, because it primarily subsidizes people who are wealthy enough to fly. Take for example Havre, Montana (population 10,000), which currently has EAS service to Billings (a 4-hour drive). A van shuttle to Great Falls (2 hours) could make sense; but then why make it just an airport van? Presently, public bus service between the two cities operates twice weekly; if a shuttle to connect Havre to the Great Falls airport is funded by public dollars, then it should also serve the non-flying, local community.

      • David M says:

        Taipei does city check in for the Taoyuan Airport MRT, but it’s only available for China Airlines and EVA Air passengers. Checked bags are carried in a separate compartment on the train.

        Oslo has check-in kiosks at the main train station adjacent to the platform for the Airport Express Train; the kiosks print boarding passes and luggage tags, but passengers still carry the bags on the train and drop them off with the airline once they reach the airport.

      • Bob Schilling says:

        Remote baggage check isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s a nice amenity where it works.  Distribution among airlines is easily handled with dedicated skycaps.  The harder issue is check-in staff in remote terminals.  That requires staff who have been trained in several airlines’ processes, and it requires corresponding baggage tags.  Again, not insurmountable if you’re determined to do it, and you’re willing to spend, say, $100 per passenger. 

        With respect, I disagree with your characterization of this service as a poor use of public transport dollars.  It doesn’t affect public transport dollars.  We’re using airports money here, or airport subsidies to be exact.  There’s ample precedent for using dedicated airport funds for this kind of service, and in any case I would argue that the subsidies aren’t limited to expenditures “inside the fence.”  I would be open to multiple pickup points, so long as we keep the total trip time reasonable for the point-to-point distance.  What’s true, though, is that if we’re using airport funds, absent a waiver, we’re limited to airport service.  There’s plenty of precedent for that, too.

        Remember, we’re trying to serve small towns and cities that otherwise may lose air service altogether.  Best to think of ways to do it than reasons not to.

        • Ron says:

          Yes, we’re trying to serve small towns and cities that may lose air service, and I’d say that they’re better served by a bus that carries both airport and local traffic, rather than a bus that carries airport traffic only.

  12. JayB says:

    I’ve used the EAS for many, many flights. It was on Cape Air, an airline that knows a thing or two. Of course, it’s a dying program, kept alive by a few politicians, and few woeful, bottom-feeder airlines, you and no one else under the current program would ever think of using. There’s no one to market the program, or to understand to whom you should be marketing. In most small communitites it’s not the people there the program is for, it’s those who will work and play there. But, service will never pay for itself. Funding, reliable funding, like a transit system in the nation’s capital can’t find, is what’s needed. No politician today will be able to do anything positive. It’ll take somebody like a Branson, to do all the work and then, dream on, we’ll be willing to tax ourselves for it. Just take the EAS money and build a Wall, I guess. Hopeless, I say!

  13. Jim says:

    If the government can’t find airlines willing to provide this service even with massive subsidies, then at some point they need to accept that there is no demand. These small communities need to swallow their pride and accept that they are not big enough for commercial service.

    Perhaps the government can subsidize alternatives, like a shuttle bus to the nearest commercial airport.

  14. I’ve always wondered if Airline-A was flying to a EAS city, and Airline-B on there own started service to that ESA city, would the Fed’s still pay Airline-A or would they say sorry we don’t need you now since Airline-B is in that city?

    • Jim says:

      I doubt that would ever happen, because it’s almost impossible to compete against a subsidized service. The airline with the subsidy could just lower prices and force the new airline to leave.

    • TMartin says:

      That did happen a few years ago when Modesto was an EAS city. Wings West received the original subsidy, but WestAir saw enough potential they started. WW became AA Eagle, and WA became United Express. The subsidy actually lasted for several years, before MOD was axed from the program.

  15. Main(e) Man says:

    Funny about Pueblo. When I lived there it had at least twice a day service to DEN (then Stapleton) by Rocky Mountain Air, part of Continental Express. They flew Dash-6s and Dash-7s. There was also once a day service to COS (only 50 highway miles north) by America West on a 737. America West made a stop in PUB on there way from PHX. This was in the mid 1980’s and Pueblo was a dead steel town then. Things have improved there since then and I’m surprised they are having service difficulty.

  16. jmanly says:

    Obviously, some routes are not worth keeping. Would make more sense to reallocate those subsidies, perhaps to use when air transport may make a real difference, such as medical transport.

  17. Dale M says:

    Although I think EAS is woefully in need of a major makeover which (among other things) blends non-federal money into the subsidy on a sliding scale, there are a few counterpoints to make.
    1. Skywest has been on a tear bidding on (and almost always winning) EAS market as of late and they are nearing 40 cities. In the past handful of months they have been awarded Qunicy, Moab, Clarksburg, North Platte, Pueblo, Vernal, Cape Girardeau, and Scottsbluff, plus about a half-dozen more pending. In markets where branded 50-seat regional service has come traffic has grown significantly and per-passenger subsidy has decreased. In a few cases traffic has grown enough to get off of subsidy. Certainly not all EAS markets can do this, but years of lousy service have turned markets which once generated scores of daily passengers in ones which generate handfuls.

    2. EAS markets don’t generally harm other small unsubsidized airports because that’s not where traffic bleeds to. Take Ironwood MI for example. The closest unsubsidized airport is Duluth at about 2:15, but if Ironwood loses EAS almost nobody will drive to Duluth for a high-fare regional jet flight to hub. They’ll drive 4:15 to Minneapolis. Ending Jamestown NY won’t help Erie’s traffic, ending Mason City won’t help Wateroo’s traffic. Except in especially-remote places almost nobody drives very far to a small, high-fare airport. They keep driving…sometimes four or more hours….to get to a larger airport with better fares and nonstop flights.

    By no means am I saying EAS is working well, but unfortunately EAS as a whole is judged by periodic stories highlighting the most pointless, expensive markets. That doesn’t lead to a push for reform of small-city air service but for calls to simply pull the plug on EAS. That never happens because there are too many small-state interest who fight it. And we end up with the status quo again.

  18. Mallthus says:

    Seems to me that no airport within a 2 hour drive of another, unsubsidized airport, ought to be getting EAS subsidies. Airports like Altoona and Pueblo just serve to ruin EAS for airports that really need the support.

    Look at Alomosa, CO. It’s 3 hours from COS if there’s no snow. That it has EAS subsidies makes sense. Pueblo, on the other hand, is 45 minutes from COS. That’s closer to COS than I am, in Longmont, to DEN, but we don’t have an EAS subsidy and neither does nearby FNL (Loveland/Fort Collins), which has struggled to attract and maintain commercial service despite serving a metro area 3 times the size of Pueblo and being almost twice as far from a major airport.

  19. Bjorn says:

    For the interested, there’s this study funded by the bus lobby, Reason, and an environmentalist organization that advocates for replacing very-short haul EAS service with bus service.

    http://reason.org/files/essential_air_service_coach_bus_service_full.pdf

  20. One thing that gets overlooked during these discussions and decisions is the effect air service (or its lack) has on a smaller community’s ability to grow. When a smaller city or county tries to attract new business or industry, scheduled air service is a big selling point, and often a requirement for a company that is looking for a place to build a new factory or regional headquarters. True, smaller regional airports might not generate a lot of passenger movement. But if Mega Industries needs a place to build a new flux capacitor factory, they’re not going to be interested in Hooterville if their execs and clients have to drive two hours to/from the Gotham City airport. Small cities without air service cannot attract new industry necessary for growth.

    • txjim says:

      Would minimal service to a single destination really be a make or break factor for any significant industry?

      Besides, Hooterville has adequate train service, the Cannonball runs 4X daily to Pixley

      • Davey says:

        And I believe Steve and Uncle Joe would fly you to Gotham City, or at least to Crabwell Corners, on Steve’s crop duster! All without federal subsidy!

        • mixer43 says:

          It was worth reading these comments to get to this point. Yea for Hooterville and Gotham City.

  21. MarylandDavid says:

    BWI’s wiki page lists it as a small regional hub for Southern Airways Express with flights to 6 small cities / towns (Hagerstown, Lancaster, Morgantown WV, Altoona, Dubois PA, Johnstown PA). I assume they are averaging less than 9 people for flight. However, the past few times I’ve been to BWI there were at least that many at the Southern ticket counter.

  22. boltzr says:

    I flew Salt Lake – Vernal – Denver this year RT, it was a fun little ride, but I only did it for the novelty, not out of necessity.

  23. DaninMCI says:

    What a waste of tax payer money. Victoria Texas is only about 2 hours from two airports in Houston and San Antonio among others. Garden City Kansas, maybe. Victoria Texas, no.

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