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CHAPTER 4 Understanding the Key Challenges to Viable Air Service at Smaller Communities Each of the 426 small and non-hub airports in the United States operates under its own unique set of circumstances that present challenges to its ability to retain or enhance commercial air ser- vice. While each airport is unique, they share many common traits. In this chapter are described the common major challenges that small communities face in operating viable air service. How do local demographic and economic characteristics influence air service? Chapter 2 discussed some of the factors that airlines take into account in deciding whether to serve a particular location and the extent to which communities might be able to influence those decisions. The basic underpinning of those was passenger demand. There are fundamental and There are funda- direct relationships between population, economic strength, the availability of competitive alter- natives, and the amount of air service that carriers believe a community can support. mental and direct relationships All else being equal, communities with more population, employment, and income will demand more air service. As passenger demand increases, the supply of air service will increase between popula- to meet that demand. Communities with greater levels of income and gross regional product and tion, economic larger populations and employment levels will receive more substantial air service. strength, the avail- A second key aspect of passenger demand at a smaller community is the availability of alter- ability of competi- natives. Travelers to or from smaller communities will demand more air service if the alterna- tives to that air service (e.g., service at another airport or the availability of interstate highways) tive alternatives, are either costly or unavailable. In other words, communities that are farther from an airport and the amount with an LCC may receive "better" service. of air service that Research has statistically quantified the differences in air service accounted for by differences carriers believe a in these key variables. For example, a 2002 federal government study of how air service at small communities changed following the events of September 11, 2001, discussed the basic economic community can principles that affected commercial air service (8). In an economic analysis of changes in air ser- support. vice among 202 small communities, it reported the following: For every additional $5,000 in per capita income, a community received 3.3 and 12.7 more jet and turboprop departures per week, respectively. In other words, if two small communities, A and B, were identical in every way except that Community A had $5,000 more in per capita income than Community B, then Community A had roughly 16 more total departures per week than Community B. This difference in the number of total departures was attributable to the difference in per capita income. A community received 4.3 and 4.8 more jet and turboprop departures per week, respectively, for every additional 25,000 jobs in the community. 47