Sunday, September 30, 2012

Causality everywhere

So there is the round of coverage over the anniversary of the midfield terminal at the Greater Pittsburgh airport. PG:Pittsburgh International Airport's midfield terminal at 20: A shell of its past self.  Go back to Friday for my general thoughts on it all, but there is a bigger point that nobody wants to touch.  Was there ever an upside to such an investment at the airport?  It is a universal assumption that investment at the airport would spur economic growth.   I pointed out long ago there really is no economic research to back up the premise behind all the effort.  I've challenged literally everyone I have ever gotten into this debate with to show the research that shows how greater airline service is causal to regional economic growth anywhere in the long run. Nobody has anything substantial. Someone must have some clear research showing the benefits? No doubt there is greater air service where there is economic growth, but that is called correlation, which is something else altogether.   

The 2nd link there is for a story from 2004 and read some of the quotes and I don't mean just mine.  Lots of doomsaying back then over the potential loss of international air service from the airport here.  How did that turn out since the loss of air service here, including international air service, wound up far worse than anyone was really prognosticating at the time? You would have assumed that given how much air service we lost Pittsburgh would be a backwater economic case by now!  Yet by virtually every measure the regional economy is going far better in the period of late when it has far far less air service than it did a decade earlier, maybe some of the least air service in history compared to other major metros. Nobody wants to infer causality there (as they shouldn't).  Even before there was a glint of warning over the USAirways departure it would be hard to identify any real economic growth that happened because of the disproportionate number of flights we had here. No meaningful corporate relations or other site selection 'wins' directly tied to air service here even back then.  Think about that some.

Anyway, just a test to see how much has changed.  I am not sure this graphic will work but below should be an interactive graphic of some data from BTS on the change in passenger usage at the top 50 airports.  It may not work, but let's see. To call up the graphic on its own full page click here.


Anonymous MH said...

This graph is very interesting. I guess I'd forgotten that TWA had even made it to 2001 until I was trying to figure why Saint Louis dropped even worse. Also interesting is that typing TWA into wikipedia gets you a group of hunters in Africa. Assuming wikipedia default patterns reflect how often searches are done, it shows how quickly that stuff fads.

Sunday, September 30, 2012 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

at least they made a tv series (briefly, on cable?) of Pan Am.

Monday, October 01, 2012 1:15:00 AM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Well, there's air service and then there's air service. There are destination flights, people that actually fly to Pittsburgh and leave the airport. Whether they be tourists, family, or business travelers, they will have an economic affect. People that fly to other cities`for the purpose of generating business and then return would also have an economic impact.
But being a hub for USAir is basically a human cargo hub. People fly into a hub, change planes, and they fly out. Substantial economic activity for the employees to service them and support facilities but not the same impact as destination flights.

And then there is the private/corporate traffic. More expensive but opens up all cities as destinations for business travelers.

Losing the hub status is not the same as losing a large number of destination flights. And even without the hub, Pittsburgh still has substantial flights to a large number of cities.
A good comparison would be to see the number of different destinations are served by the various airports. If we were to lose a large number of cities to fly to that could possibly hurt our economic development.

Monday, October 01, 2012 8:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pan Am aired--all too briefly--on ABC. Sadly for the admittedly few of us who were fans, they didn't even burn off the shows they made but never aired during garbage time this summer.

Monday, October 01, 2012 9:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the trouble with ancedotes. I could just as easily point out that, anecdotally, I've heard that many more people now fly to DC because Southwest's flights to BWI have brought down the fares for fliers to all three DC-area airports. Or, ancedotally, people used to drive to Cleveland Hopkins to catch cheaper flights and connect at PIT. Or, anecdotally, I've been told that our older skewing population, because it skews poorer as well, flies less than other comparable regions. (BTW, the debate here has me wondering: does anyone--has anyone--actually fly to Cleveland from Pittsburgh solely to go to Cleveland--ever? Driving has to be easier for that trip.)

What we need are some hard numbers on origin and destination traffic at PIT. Both before and after the hub. My gut tells me that O/D traffic is probably up, maybe significantly, even with the end of Southwest flights to Philly. But I don't know if USAir ever broke out its connecting versus O/D traffic back in the day. Does anyone?

Also, mea culpa. The 2.57 number for Sacramento was me. I went back and looked. In my haste to explain Sacramento, I now realize that I looked at a 2009 Census estimate of 2011 population for the Sacramento CSA. Apparently, this economy wrecked that estimate.

Monday, October 01, 2012 9:49:00 AM  

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