Friday, September 28, 2012

To Fly

So I debated whether to point out the obvious here, but I wasn't even sure if this was serious.  See the press release: Pittsburgh International Airport Celebrates 20 Years Of Service, Innovation And Growth In The Pittsburgh Region.

No hubris there.  I'm now half expecting the Nuttings to issue a press release highlighting 76 wins this season.

Now I hate to point this out, but Pittsburgh is the 22nd largest metropolitan area in the nation depending on how you want to benchmark it.  Yet the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport is of late the 45th largest airport when measured by passenger enplanements.  In fact it is on a trend to be kicked off the list of the Top 50 airports in the US when so ranked. 

So when it comes to measuring competitiveness a basic metric is the Location Quotient (LQ).  I'll skip the tutorial, but let's just say that when it comes to economic impact I am pretty sure commerical air transportation in the Pittsburgh region has a LQ less than 1.0.  OK, skip that for now. No need to confuse anything with data or anything like that.

If you really want to read the tea leaves, consider what it means that virtually all of the nearby smaller regional airports are growing.  All while Pittsburgh traffic is trending down again.  For a time there was a bump up that sure seemed to result from the rush of shale development drove the demand for flights into the region. Was that really thought to be sustainable? 

Recall also the multi-decade effort to make the airport into a center for air freight as well as passenger traffic.  Well, as best I can tell we are not even on that top 50 list today.

More troubling is what will happen in there is a merger of USAirways and American Airways as is being talked about because of the troubles at AA.   If you look at the top destinations of folks flying out of Pittsburgh you will see Charlotte is #2. Have to believe that is all flying into the USAirways hub they retained.  I really have to believe those numbers will come down if US Airways morphs with the AA network. 

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it is hubris for sure. The Authority's got signage out there saying the same thing. Not so sure about your conclusion that down, down, down is the future. I'll set aside my concern that our elected officials will spend good money chasing bad if they worry about this. More to the point, Pittsburgh's numbers actually look quite reasonable when compared to de-hubbed/non-hubbed airports in similarly-sized regions like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Memphis, or San Antonio. Also, Southwest offered cheap flights with promises to grow if its LUV was reciprocated, but Pittsburghers apparently love their USAirways frequent flier miles over competition. So, Southwest is growing in places like Denver where the populous flocked to an alternative to United. (Of course, United is the worst legacy carrier by far--so says Joe Brancatelli--so maybe it's not so surprising). The airports with more emplacements are either major hubs, global cities, tourist destinations or all three. As you often point out yourself, it's unfair to compare us to them. Last, that traffic going to Charlotte is hub traffic of all those Pittsburghers who continue to love their FF miles. (I mean, I talk to people all the time who'd rather connect in Charlotte for the miles then fly nonstop to Florida on Southwest. Huh?) Maybe there would be fewer flights to Charlotte, but that traffic will still go to a connecting AA or USAirways hub. (And I wouldn't count out Charlotte. AA tries to serve the South from Dallas and Miami; while Delta has Atlanta. Having a hub in Charlotte is one of the reasons the tie-up is attractive).

Saturday, September 29, 2012 7:55:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

44 other us cities are "either major hubs, global cities, tourist destinations or all three"???

Wow. We really live in a backwater kind of place. On the enplanements list we are well below Sacramento, Nashville, and Cleveland just to pick a few.

It is an assumption that folks used USAirways to philly for frequent flyer miles. I don't buy it myself. Might have a little to do with further routings.

From a pure policy point of view the cargo ranking (or lack of ranking) is a bit clearer then as a metric of success at using the airport as a driver of economic development.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 8:38:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Is it more expensive to fly out of Pittsburgh. I haven't done a consistent set of comparisons, but it seems to be that way.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 9:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Memphis is a Delta hub. Cleveland remains a United hub. Sacramento's tougher to explain. Though, the metro area is 15% bigger than us and probably wealthier, given our older skewing population. Cargo? We export coal. That goes into ships.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 9:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Nashville's a former AA hub and, ahem, tourist destination that responded to Southwest. It is now one of Southwest's largest stations.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

So there are 44 special circumstances? OK.

I tell you what, lets do the obvious calculation of enplanements per capita and see how we rank.

Might want to look up how the Sacramento economy is doing of late. Memphis is kind of a hub these days... and does a just a bit better than us on cargo along the way.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 5:30:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

The airport as an independent economic development engine is dead (although its shadow may linger).

But is service at the airport otherwise constraining economic development? In other words, is it for some reason insufficient to meet local demand? I don't really see that being the case, and I don't think a USAir/AA merger will do much to change that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 6:34:00 PM  
Anonymous SmarterThanAnonymous said...

"Though, the (Sacramento) metro area is 15% bigger than us and probably wealthier"

Sacramento's still got another 200k before it catches Pittsburgh MSA... and it's much further behind than that when it comes to economic / workforce metrics.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 7:33:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Probably our fast, frequent intercity rail connections keep down our need to fly.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 8:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Smarter. You had to make it personal. The 2011 Census Estimate for the Sacramento MSA is 2.57 million. The same number for Pittsburgh is 2.35 million. That is 200k, but in favor of Sacramento. Nice try, though. I'll give you better workforce numbers than Pittsburgh--for those under 40. But our older population is poorer than average--as the migrant metrics Chris is always posting remind us, our richer retirees head to warmer climes. This is a demographic story, plain and simple. Well that and USAirways canny ability to have maintained just enough service to keep the frequent business traveller loyal.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 9:30:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Sacramento is the capitol city of California...that has to generate a disproportionate number of flights based on population.

What about location? You can drive to New York, Philly, DC, Charlotte, Chicago, and a whole lot in between in about 8 hrs or less. All the extra time and hassle of going through security negates a lot of the advantage of flying. An hr to get to the airport, have to arrive two hrs early, 1.5 hrs flight time, .5 hrs for luggage and get a car, .5 to 1 hr to get to destination with the added cost of renting a car......8 hrs or less and I'm driving if its more than an overnighter.
Pitt Airport is hurt by the fact you can get to about 50 major cities as easy or easier by car. And take a lot more stuff with ya.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or it might have something to do with the fact that we are well placed geographically, such that Cleveland, Philly and DC are a easy drive and NYC an Chicago are not too hard. Considering the crap one has to go through at the airport security and the fact that NYC and Chicago airports are relatively remote (time, not necessarily distance), many folks would consider driving to these four destinations over flying. I'd wager that close to 1/2 of the region's business travel go to one of these five cities (CLE, PHI, DC, NY, CHI). If that's the case, all we are seeing here is an increase of range for driving over flying. So, no biggie.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Let's rephrase this. If we normalize to population Pittsburgh's ranking in terms of enplanements is going to be even lower than it is in the absolute numbers.

Why does it matter. Let's presume no investment (and no public money.. we'll get back to that later so PitAirport does not need to dispute it here), had been made over the decades. Would the usage of the airport be any lower than it is now?

Of course we don't know the counterfactual, but it seems pretty clear PIT is near, at, or possibly even below the minimum usage you would expect for the major airport in an MSA of Pittsburgh's size. If so then what does it say about the competitiveness of the airport.

Again, look at the whole picture. Two decades of efforts to build an air cargo gateway here. Look at the news snippets I linked from every regional airport as well. Bottom line: could the numbers for PIT be lower?

Sunday, September 30, 2012 8:43:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Is it possible the other airports were getting even more public money than ours? At the very least, some of them got gobs of stupid money.

Sunday, September 30, 2012 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Source for that 2.57 million figure?

Sunday, September 30, 2012 2:02:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

For the 2010 census, the figures for MSA/SCA are:

Pittsburgh: 2,356,285/2,447,393
Sacramento: 2,149,127/2,461,780

The 2011 estimate for Sacramento for the CSA is still not 2.57 (it's 2,489,230), but I suppose at one point (before the crash) somebody might have made that estimate. Anyway, it doesn't make sense to report that Sacramento is 15% bigger than Pittsburgh for any sort of census-based region.

Sunday, September 30, 2012 2:58:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Sorry, "SCA" should be "CSA". That is, Combined Statistical Area. I'm not sure of which is more appropriate for this comparison, but you would probably want to use the same one.

Sunday, September 30, 2012 3:00:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

and on this

If that's the case, all we are seeing here is an increase of range for driving over flying. So, no biggie.

If what I hear (albeit anecdotally) is true then you have this completely backwards. Seems like lots of folks are being forced to drive even when they don't want to because they can't get the flight they need.. or more often can't find the flight they need at a reasonable price. Biggie!

That is a big stretch if meant as a rationalization. Is it really that much easier to drive to DC, Cleveland or Philadelphia than it was 20 years ago? That's a hard sell, but I guess it would mean the real culprit for the airport's downfall is the reversion to a 65mph speed limit.

Monday, October 01, 2012 12:58:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Megabus might do something at the margin. I don't know anybody over 40 who takes it, but the younger people I know are frequent customers.

Monday, October 01, 2012 8:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I blame the 28X.

Monday, October 01, 2012 9:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no preference between flying or driving since my employer/clients pay for it, so at some level, my decision is based solely on convenience and travel time. For my frequent trips to Cleveland, Detroit and DC, driving is the way to go at this point - competetive in cost and time.

You're right on speed. 65 MPH limit (70 in Michigan and Ohio) make Detroit very reachable - even doing an up and back in the same day, in a pinch. And with the ability to basically do 80 out there without drawing police attention, the world gets even smaller.

Add to that the ability to hop on the phone for conference calls and keep work moving back at the office (though I'd rather do that from an Acela-type train). But the real ace-in-the-hole is flexibility. Client meeting ends early, I leave early; goes long, I leave later. Need an extra day? No prob.

My data is anecdotal, but there are a lot of people in client service that are operating this way these days and treating the Cleveland - Pittsburgh markets as one market.

Monday, October 01, 2012 9:49:00 AM  

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