Air Service Development Strategies

Glenn S. Januska

Air service development should be easy. In theory, all it takes is convincing an airline that it can make a profit serving your market; but that's really not enough. Given the limited amount of aircraft airlines have to deploy and the larger number of airports vying for service, you must also demonstrate that a carrier can make more money in your market than elsewhere. How this is done is very different from one airport to the next. 

The old saying, "When you've seen one airport, you've seen one airport," absolutely holds true for air service development. What succeeds in one market may not work in others. Developing an effective strategy for your particular market is critical. 

Glenn S. Januska 

Glenn S. Januska, A.A.E., has been director of Casper/Natrona County International Airport for eight years. In total, he has worked at five different airports during his 27-year career.

First, know thy market. With a catchment area of 270,000 people, Casper, WY, is a small market; but it is also relatively isolated, with Denver a four-hour drive away. We're small enough that no airline analyst wakes up and says, "Let's look at Casper today." So we do the work ourselves. Every two years, we complete a market analysis/leakage study. We know the size of our market, which airlines passengers are using, where travelers are going and what they are paying for fares - at our airport and elsewhere. United may not care as much if Casper passengers leak to Denver ... until its executives see how many passengers do so and which airlines they use. 

There are a host of questions to ask: How much traffic is origination and destination (O&D) vs. connecting? How far is the nearest hub(s)? What airlines serve them? Do those carriers have aircraft that would work in your market? 

In Casper, we have a 10,150-foot primary runway. With an elevation of 5,150 feet and a dry, desert climate, a fully loaded FedEx A300 has no problem using our airport daily. A 30-passenger EMB-120, however, would be weight-restricted in the summer. Delta service to Minneapolis (580 nautical miles) works with a CRJ-200; but service to Atlanta (1,166 nautical miles) requires a larger aircraft. Given the O&D and connecting passengers through Atlanta, our market analysis shows that a larger aircraft might make sense, but not with the frequency we would need for business travelers and not at the profitability level Delta would likely want.

Second, it's important to know thy airline. A year before Allegiant started flying in Casper, its market development team invited us to a conference, where I learned "everything Allegiant." I loved walking out of that event with a plan. If Allegiant started service In Casper, I knew that neither our existing airlines nor our fixed-base operator would provide ground handling services. So we turned to our flight school, and its instructors welcomed the opportunity to supplement to their pay with extra ground handling work. 

We also told our local economic development entity about the importance of having ground support equipment, not only for Allegiant but to help attract other carriers by lowering the cost to enter our market. The alliance consequently purchased the equipment and leased it to the flight school, which has successfully provided Allegiant's ground handling for seven years now. 

An executive from a different airline told me that he wished every airport would provide its cost per enplaned passenger, but very few do. Now I know our cost and share it with him and all of our other airline partners. 

Yet another executive told me that his airline had plenty of historic data about our market, but he really wanted to know what might affect future travel demand. Easy enough! I email my list of airline contacts all news story about central Wyoming that could translate into butts in aircraft seats. They may get more information about the energy industry than they ever expected, but they also understand our market better. Who knows? Maybe some airline person will wake up thinking about Casper. 

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