Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lexington's Air Travel Future

Last week, the Brookings Institution issued a report on air travel trends in America. Its general conclusion is that you can expect delays... more delays than you already have. Anybody that travels by commercial air these days will understand this.

The traveling public has grown used to the idea of speed and convenience of air travel since the first flights of the 20th century. The Interstate System came along in the latter half of the century which made it easier to travel those shorter distances, roughly 80-120 miles, in about the same time as scheduled air service and relegating some of the smaller airfields into non-players. Post 9/11 the TSA and other security changes have made air travel an even more time consuming endeavor.

The airline industry has, since deregulation, focused more and more flights into their central hubs and let regional carriers do the bulk of the short haul flights in the US. These centralized hubs have allowed smaller airlines to spring up, but the also have given the control of the air routes to the major companies.
Nearly 99 percent of all U.S. air passengers arrive or depart from one of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, with the vast majority of travel concentrated in 26 metropolitan-wide hubs.
These 100 metropolitan areas do not include Lexington, nor most points south and east until you get closer to Atlanta and the 26 hubs are usually located in the mega-regions that are forming the basis of American life under the present economy. How that economy will change in the coming reset will bear a careful watching.
Half of the country’s flights are routes of less than 500 miles
The really amazing thing here is that these flights only carried 30% of the total airline passengers in the past 12 months. It is highly likely that these flights are being flown from smaller airfields into a central hub and back out to a mid-sized airfield, both of whose communities could be reached by Interstate but being of sufficient distance as to create difficulty in driving in a days time.
Within the 26 domestic hubs, six experienced worse-than-average delays for both arrivals and departures: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and San Francisco.
The projected growth of our mega-regions would only assure that these delays will only get worse. It is assumed that the current recession has caused the reduction in the number of flights and its resultant improvement of on-time performance statistics. Likewise, it is also assumed that the travelers will return upon the rebound of the economy. Neither of these assumptions should be considered likely given the predicted economic reset and the uncertain length of our current economic status.

I would find it as no surprise that the inventive spirit that evidenced itself after the recession of the 1890s(the automobile and the airplane) would not again come forth and give us new methods of getting things done in the world. A paradigm shift of the magnitude of the pendulum swinging in the other direction is not out of the question.

Lexington does not seem to be prepared for anything other that the pendulum continuing to swing farther in its current direction and yet our momentum has slowed. Where do we go from here?

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