Posts Tagged ‘Voltaire Aviation’

Akron-Canton, Youngstown Struggle to Attract Air Service in Competition with Cleveland, Pittsburgh

October 14, 2017

 

An Allegiant Air Airbus 320 lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport last April. By early next year, Allegiant will have foresaken the Akron-Canton and Youngstown airports.

Shortly after learning that its last scheduled airline would be ending service in early January 2018, officials at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport hired a consultant to assess how the airport could regain commercial service.

The report by Mike Mooney of Voltaire Aviation was not promising. It will be a challenge for Youngstown to regain air service, although not impossible.

His report also carried ominous news for the Akron-Canton Airport, which has seen two airlines decamp to Cleveland in the past five years.

One of CAK’s current carriers, Spirit Airlines, has been posting load factors that are 8 load factor points under the Spirit system load factor for the period of November 2016 to May 2017.

Although Mooney did not draw any conclusions as to what that might mean for CAK, he did say the Akron-Canton and Youngstown airports are losing flights to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport as ultra low cost airlines Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier Airlines increase their presence in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Mooney said the profitability of the ultra low-cost business model has since 2012 changed the Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Akron-Cleveland air service market from a “backwater to full-scale [ultra-low-cost] battleground” with intense pricing competition.

Hopkins Airport today has the highest concentration of flights provided by the low-cost carriers of any non-destination airport in the county.

Mooney told Youngstown officials to be patient in looking for a replacement airline.

At the same time he said with the rising number of flights from Cleveland and Pittsburgh to resort areas of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, it will be difficult for Youngstown to attract another carrier to provide service to those points.

Allegiant now flies from Youngstown to the Orlando-Sanford Airport and to Clearwater International Airport in the Tampa Bay region. None of those flights operate daily.

Allegiant once offered flights from Youngstown to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Punta Gorda, Florida.

John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, noted that Allegiant flights from Youngstown have had over 90 percent occupancy.

“We know what the numbers were. We had a very high percent occupancy on those flights. We had a very high percentage occupancy on flights that Allegiant canceled prior,” he said.

“Something has changed how they look at their business model. Something has changed in terms of how they operate and where they want to go,” Moliterno said.

Mooney suggested that the changes include declining load factors in, the loss of a low fare advantage, and decisions by carriers to focus on markets in larger cities that were once dominated by legacy airlines.

The first ultra low-cost carrier to serve the Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Cleveland-Akron region was Allegiant, which began flying into Youngstown in 2006.

Back then, Continental Airlines had a hub in Cleveland and Pittsburgh still has substantial service from USAirways, which had operated a hub there until 2004.

As recently as 2000, USAirways and its regional partners operated more than 500 daily flights from Pittsburgh to more than 110 destinations. By 2007, that had shrunk to 70 flights to 21 destinations.

Hub airports may offer travelers a wide number of non-stop flights to numerous destinations, but they also tend to have higher fares.

When Allegiant landed in Youngstown, the airport had been without commercial air service for more than three years.

At the same time, another low fare carrier, AirTran, was beginning to expand service from Akron-Canton to Florida. AirTran soon became CAK’s busiest carrier and eventually began service to New York and Boston.

Yet another low fare carrier, Frontier, offered flights from CAK to Denver.

Both airports benefited from the low fares offered by Allegiant, Frontier and AirTran. Many travelers from the Cleveland and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas began driving to the Youngstown and Akron-Canton airports to take advantage of them.

In the meantime, USAirways continued to cut flights in Pittsburgh and Continental merged with United Airlines, which in 2014 began phasing out its Cleveland hub. United reduced its 200 flights in Cleveland to 72 serving 20 destinations.

On the heels of these service cuts by the legacy carriers, the low fare carriers saw opportunity.

Frontier bolted from Akron-Canton in 2012 for Hopkins where it has since established a major presence.

AirTran was acquired by Southwest Airlines in 2014 and initially kept most flights out of CAK, flying to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Orlando, Las Vegas and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Southwest began pulling back from Akron-Canton in 2015, ending all service except to Atlanta. The last Southwest flight from Akron-Canton left this past June as Southwest deployed planes once serving CAK to new routes from Cleveland and Columbus, among other cities.

As Southwest was cutting service at CAK, Allegiant in May 2015 came into the airport located near Green with flights to Florida and the Southeast. Many of those flights were seasonal and none operated daily.

Then in November 2016, Spirit Airlines began flying to CAK, not long after Allegiant announced it was withdrawing from the airport in favor of service from Cleveland Hopkins to 10 destinations, which was more than the airline ever had from Akron-Canton.

Spirit continues to serve Akron-Canton, but with far fewer flights to fewer destinations than it offers from Hopkins. Spirit’s service from CAK is oriented to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Myrtle Beach and Las Vegas.

Airline consultant Mooney told Youngstown officials that their airport has suffered from the changing strategies of the low-cost carriers in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh service market that will make it difficult to attract other carriers.

“Youngstown’s service just got overwhelmed by all three carriers competing with each other at Cleveland and Pittsburgh,” Mooney said.

This competition also has affected Akron-Canton although it continues to have a moderate level of service, much of it provided by regional carriers operating under the brand names of legacy carriers United, American and Delta.

This includes service to New York, Newark, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Delta operates three non-stop flights daily between CAK and Atlanta using MD88 mainline jets. All other flights use regional jet equipment.

Youngstown, though, has not enjoyed the level of service that Akron-Canton has had.

Aside from service by Allegiant, Youngstown is served by periodic public charters oriented to trips to casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and in Mississippi.

A service between Youngstown and Chicago O’Hare International Airport by Aerodynamics Inc. began July 1, 2016, but ended in late August of that year.

Mooney said neither Youngstown or Akron-Canton can draw on the nearby Cleveland and Pittsburgh metroplexes for passengers as they once did.

Youngstown’s best chance to land commercial air service after Allegiant leaves may lie with a regional carrier flying small planes and which does not have an operating agreement to fly under the brand name of a legacy carrier.

One such carrier might be Southern Airways. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Southern operates single-engine turboprops.

“We are going to talk to them all. We are going to try to bring another airline to this airport,” said Moliterno of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

Although Moliterno said commercial service accounts for less than 10 percent of the airport’s overall business, an empty terminal creates a negative public perception.

“Which is the other reason it is very important for us to get that service back,” he said.