"Turn on the lights"
I guess it comes with getting old, but it's amazing to me how much people have forgotten how much focus, effort and sheer $$ went into the idea that airport was to be the economic generator to save the region. The thing that I never understood, and which I would explain to everyone who asked, was that there was no academic research out there connecting causally support for an airline hub and economic growth. See comments here from 2004, by which time I was just tired of questions from folks on how big the economic impact was of the USAirways hub and even more tired more of people getting peeved when they heard I was not giving out the party line. It's one of those things that people just think should be the case. Indeed there might be.. almost certainly is, a correlation between increase flights and growth. But as best anyone really has shown, the causality is the other way which would have a lot of implications for money invested on the 'effect'. Some of the greatest policy failures come from folks doing what you try to get introductory stats students to stop doing which is confusing correlation with causality.
The great irony is that Pittsburgh's great revitalization story has only come into full bloom in the years since USAirways has virtualy eliminated it's hub operation. If one were to draw superficial connections, what would you conclude from that? It's been some years now, but for years everyone tried to tie the entire future of Pittsburgh's commercial competitiveness to the number of flights originating here. Well, those flight counts have collapsed. Should we all shut down our business and complete the diaspora? It is a good time to go back and look at all the prognostications of doom and gloom for Pittsburgh (in a relative sense) for Pittsburgh if we lost flights. Maybe there is a reason research can't find the causality everyone just knew was out there.
I am not sure the story is over with. I mentioned recently that my direct, if anecdotal, observation was that bookings on the Pittsburgh to Paris flight are not the greatest. One flight to Paris I was on recently had 83 passengers total (I asked the crew) which made it about a third full. That and it was a pretty reasonable fare as well. That and the recent cancellation of the summer flights Continental had from Cleveland to the UK is a strong indicaton all is not well in the (greater, greater) Pittsburgh market.
Any coincidence there was both this oped in the PG in last Sunday's and this story in the Trib last Monday? Now there is this follow up from the AP out of Cleveland. The Sunday PG oped makes the argument that 'we' (the royal we?) need to use the Pittsburgh to Paris flight or risk losing it. No doubt. Yet the argument to 'buy local' rarely works for any product (steel, agriculture... your choice) these days whether. The Trib article is interesting as well and focuses on more marketing $$ being put into the flight.
The target of opportunity being the loss of Cleveland's flight. Note that Cleveland's flight was a seasonal one so it's cancellation probbaly can't produce too too much additonal demand for a flight out of Pittsburgh. Peak summer flights are likely satiated no matter, its the off season that will make or break the Pittsburgh to Paris flight, IMHO of course. But the Trib article has an ominous line that is new to the debate. It acknowledges generally that: "officials have said a bad first year likely would result in Delta pulling the plug on the route." That is a gloomier perspective than I have seen in print as yet over all of this. Which goes back to the recent oped in the PG.
I dunno what it all means in the end. Economic development is a lot harder that it seems. The last couple sections of the Trib piece are best. Folks mad at USAirways? Yet beyond the name, the USAirways that made anyone any promises is gone... any legal promises washed away by multiple bankruptcies. The fault is not with companies which if you believe in capitalism have to have the freedom to fail. The failure was in those who took those promises at face value and didn't come up with any meaningful way to place risks where they should be placed. In economic development vague 'promises' can't mean anything in the long run, that's why we hire all those expensive lawyers.
We all tend to glom onto the answers that we can focus on and the airport was an awfully concrete thing, literally. I'm sure we all would like lots of flights and cheap fares. If one assumes there is a tradeoff.. which is what the market really wants? The airport parking lots are awfully full these days and it probably isn't a coincidence that the county is now considering selling the parking lots. One little irony is that back in hub days, the local parking was probably not as full and the value of selling the parking would not have been as much as it is now potentially. Second order effects all around?