Air Service Development Success

BLENDING SMART TECHNIQUES WITH SEXY APPROACHES

By Nicole Nelson

The new carrier. The new city. The new growth. In the language of air service development, all of the above translate to “the sexy things” associated categorically with success, according to Brian Pratte.

As San Antonio International Airport’s Chief Air Service Development Officer, Pratte is proud to tout the “sexy” trifecta SAT has achieved with the announcement of service via Sun Country Airlines to its Minneapolis-St. Paul hub in May, followed by the commencement of Sun Country service to Portland International Airport in June. SAT is also thrilled with its Valentine’s Day gift of nonstop flights to JFK via American Airlines that began Feb. 14.

Yet as wonderful as these new routes may be, both Pratte and San Antonio’s Aviation Director, Russ Handy, attest that they are perhaps equally, if not more, gratified by the existing routes that continue to grow and thrive in the highly leveraged marketplace.

“This probably doesn’t sound real glamorous, but I’m as proud of the things that you don’t see as much of as I am about the big wins in air service,” Handy explained, noting the gratification that ensues when air carriers decide to not only stay in a route but expand in that route by adding additional seats or larger aircraft. “We’ve had a couple of airline meetings in the recent past where airlines have stressed how well their routes are doing. When you see a bunch of positives, you know that not only did you secure that new route, but you made a good overall decision. We’ll have some losses as well as wins, but I think that is what I’m most proud of.”

STEADY AND SEXY

Campbell-Hill Aviation Group Vice President, Kevin Schorr, applauded airports such as SAT that take a well-rounded approach to route development.

“People instinctively think about marketing and talking about new service, but we also need to keep the existing service in mind,” Schorr said. “Airports need to make sure the public knows what they offer because, in the end, it really comes down to butts in seats, and that is going to determine whether or not you maintain service for the long run or lose it before it has a chance to mature.”

Pratte said that SAT has taken a three-pronged approach to air service development to better serve the tremendous growth the mid-sized airport has experienced in recent years. In 2017, SAT exceeded 9 million passengers for the first time ever, and by 2018, the airport exceeded 10 million passengers.

“There is maintenance and keeping what you’ve got; expansion of what is already there and, of course, the growth,” Pratte said. “We have been able to hit on all three approaches. I think that’s really what’s more beneficial than just one singular victory.”

Three years ago, the city and the airport system made a strategic decision to focus on air service development, both air service new development and retention, Handy explained. “Brian and his team, in an impressive amount of time, developed an air service development plan, a strategic plan with goals and metrics identifying, with data, air service opportunities and how they might go about that, and they tackled it.”

Prior to Pratte’s hire, air service development was relatively flat – growing by roughly one percent per year – despite the fact that the San Antonio community was consistently growing. The numbers have risen very quickly since then due, in part, to the under-told story of up-gauging with added frequencies and added capacity. Pratte and his team developed the plan and have spent up to three-quarters of their time on the road, selling the realities of SAT’s demand potential to airlines. The result was that the airport system exceeded its five-year goal in a little over two years.

COMMUNITY EMBRACE

Once an airport has a stellar route development team in place, one might think the job of air service development is seemingly formulaic. Between meetings at air carrier headquarters and air service speed dating conferences on the road (ACI-NA’s JumpStart® Air Service Development Conference) and periodic conference calls with the airlines from the home airport office, there are seemingly tried and true techniques and strategies.

But truth be told, it is far from a wash, rinse and repeat affair, according to Campbell-Hill’s Schorr. As each airport has its own unique circumstances, the air service development consultant shared that in-depth data dives and community outreach have proven necessary to round out airport-airline mating and relationship rituals.

“What we now have at our disposal are new data and new tools that make us smarter and hence make the airlines smarter about existing opportunities and about how to market new service, as well,” Schorr said, emphasizing the customized approach. “We now have better insights as to who is using the airport or not using the airport, and other choices they are making. Which airlines are they flying, for example? While we have been able to get that kind of information for years, we can now get it sooner and with greater granularity.”

Edmonton International Airport is all about the granularity as it relates to air service development. Realizing the vast importance of data, the airport developed “EIA rewards” a proprietary program that has provided the airport with a steady stream of exclusive passenger data since the program’s inception in 2011.

“When our customers reserve a parking stall or become a rewards member, we have the data on where they fly,” said EIA Vice President of Air Service and Commercial Development, Myron Keehn, noting that EIA owns the data derived from the proprietary rewards program. “We have a lot of data on very frequent customers’ travel and we utilize that as a tool to provide data so we can go to the airlines to have a conversation.”

Used in tandem with industry data, Keehn said this valuable information has contributed to EIA’s acquisition of seat capacity, both on mainline Canadian carriers as well as in the lower-cost entrance market with Air Canada Rouge, Swoop and Flair.

“All three of (the new entry lower-cost airlines) provide service from our market and that has, honestly, helped on all routes,” Keehn said, noting the carriers have ‘thickened’ some routes, and added new routes based upon the steady growth demand. “This has opened opportunities for people to travel somewhere they haven’t gone before, which is really helpful.”

The other thing EIA is prone to do is work very closely with the Edmonton business community – whether it be the tech, health, manufacturing, professional services, finance or beyond.

“We take the opportunity to say, ‘Where do you guys need to go?’” Keehn said, noting that the May 18 launch of air service to San Francisco was a community-driven objective with an Air Canada partner. “There is a large tech sector in Edmonton, and they need connectivity from a financing perspective to get to Silicon Valley. The tech communities simply don’t connect, so going through L.A. wasn’t working. They wanted point to point.”

From an airport perspective, Keehn said his team strives to work hard with the airlines in partnership.

“It is a partnership, and we really view it that way,” Keehn said. “We work on both the supply side, working with the airlines to look at where capacity is unserved or underserved, and where they can thicken routes, increase frequency or drive a larger aircraft under the same route itself, and still maintain the same crew cost.”

But that is only part of what EIA does. The other part is the work on the demand side of it.

“My team actually goes out and acts like an airline sales agent,” Keehn said, explaining the airport personnel work with tourist agencies, travel agencies, and trade agencies on both sides of the network route. Keehn again cited the recent Air Canada launch of the nonstop, year-round EIA-SFO route as a prime example.

“We actually had trade missions go down on the business side in advance, and after the route was actually launched, we had a bunch of business-to-business meetings in both cities,” Keehn said. “We actually hosted a group that came up here, and at trade shows as well. So, we drive from a business perspective, a political perspective, and an association perspective – like a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade. Then, we do it from a travel and tourism perspective as well.”

Keehn said he believes 2018, by far, was the year EIA has proven to be the most effective at community outreach.

“We were very deliberate, and we spent a lot of time and effort planning and working from both ends,” Keehn said. “I have a team of folks that I like to see often, but I tell them, ‘I really don’t want to see you in the office’ because their business is out of the office.”

DIALING IN THE DATA

Mined data, combined with community education and support, has also played a large role in Ontario International Airport’s rise from a small regional airport under the Los Angeles World Airports system to a vibrant, independent aviation gateway.

In recent years, the Inland Empire airport has marketed its convenience and accessibility in serving one of the fastest-growing population and economic centers in the United States, giving its airline partners more reasons to put more flights in the air. The result has been a double-digit increase in traffic over the past two years.

“I can really get my hands dirty in data,” remarked ONT CEO, Mark Thorpe, who has utilized his vast air service development background to work with reliable sources and consultants to process data and make appropriate industry inferences. “I spend a lot of time myself with it; it is what I enjoy and what I do best.”

Thorpe explained that LAWA acquired Ontario Airport back in the 1960s mainly for diversions. After a long period of growth throughout the early 2000s, the financial crisis hit and service was retrenched to primary airports.

As Thorpe recalled, the LAWA management team focused on building up and adding new facilities at LAX – and they needed to keep all the revenue that they could at that airport.

With that change in management philosophy came a division between the cities of Los Angeles and Ontario, which ultimately resulted in the transfer of the airport with the support of local, state and federal government. As a result, the dynamics changed and the realization took hold that overdependence on one airport wasn’t going to be a good thing for the region in terms of environmental and infrastructural impacts, among others.

“There are a lot of reasons that went into why it was transferred back, but what it means for us now is that we have the only airport in Southern California that can accommodate any significant amount of passenger and cargo traffic growth,” Thorpe said.

ONT had been the most expensive airport in Southern California in terms of airport costs on a per unit basis. But the tables have turned since the transfer to make ONT the least expensive airport in Southern California, in terms of rates and charges. This structure has led to ONT’s ranking as a Top 10 cargo airport in North America with a UPS hub, the Amazon West Regional hub, and the current build out of a FedEx hub facility.

“We’ve already got a lot of cargo traffic growth, but we want an airport that can really accommodate passenger traffic growth,” Thorpe explained.

For this reason, Thorpe has used numeric proof to make a significant case for the resurgent airport in its first stage of redevelopment. For example, Thorpe noted, ONT is more convenient than LAX for 10 million out of 18 million people in Southern California. “We have a huge market to go appeal to and we’re really careful in seeing where we have an advantage of getting to this airport, as opposed to LAX or the other airports on the coast. And that’s where we focus our marketing and our advertising. That’s what we tell airlines about – where our catchment area is.”

Thorpe said the airport is bullish about regaining essential routes that were lost a decade ago to reinstate ONT as a true gateway.

“We’re at this first stage where we’re getting back a lot of services that we’ve lost,” Thorpe said, citing as a case in point the April 22 reinstatement of daily Delta service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – as well as a red-eye beginning in June from ONT to the world’s busiest airport.

In addition, red-eye flights prevailed with recent additions to include JetBlue’s service to the JFK market and United’s overnight to Houston. Southwest is entering the San Francisco market for the first time via ONT with four daily flights planned this summer, and Frontier has proven to be “a really great partner” offering frequency to a multitude of markets.

Most notably, however, is ONT’s banner offering of transoceanic service with China Airlines flights to Taipei.

“When you think about a flight to Taiwan from Ontario Airport, it was kind of a seven on the Richter Scale,” Thorpe said, noting that the route is historic as the only commercial aviation flight to either Asia or Europe originating from an airport in Southern California beyond LAX. “It was a major occurrence in the aviation world, at least in Southern California.”

“We’re starting to see things really take off and I think we’ll start to see things reach a tipping point where we really can develop this airport into a second major international gateway in the United States,” Thorpe projected.

drone flying through orange sky

Protecting Airport Airspace

AIRPORTS CONFRONT DRONES WITH SAFETY AND SECURITY TOP OF MIND

By Sandy Smith

One of the last things a pilot on approach to a busy airport wants to worry about is an errant drone colliding with his or her aircraft. Unfortunately, as the world saw in December and January, this is exactly what happened in the airspace near London Gatwick and Newark Liberty International airports. The incident at Gatwick, reported to involve multiple drones operating over a 3-day period between December 19 to 21, resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations and well over 100,000 passenger disruptions during the very busy holiday travel season. The incident at Newark, although less disruptive, was reported by pilots to involve a drone flying “20-30 feet” away from an airliner and forced air traffic controllers to divert air traffic to other runways at the airport until the FAA was confident the drone no longer posed a threat to air safety.

Both events highlight the safety and operational impact unauthorized flights of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) on or near airports can pose.

Airports are an obvious choice for a close encounter with an untrained drone operator who “looks for what appears to be a large, wide-open space to fly their drone that happens to be near an airport,” said Scott Brockman, President and CEO of the Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority (MSCAA). Complicating the issue: “The speed at which drones and other technology is advancing and the ability of the aviation system to truly adapt. It’s coming. Are we ready for it?”

The answer to that question remains somewhat unclear. Still, some airports are taking a dual leadership role in making sure that protocols are developed and in exploring the many benefits of drones.

“It’s frustrating to see these near-misses and know there is potential for an awful accident,” said Marily Mora, President and CEO of Reno Airport Authority and a member of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee. “They have so much potential to help in airports that we don’t want to see the progress stopped.”

CONCERNS, CLOSE CALLS

As the technology improves and the price point declines, UAS offer potential for airports. But they offer that same potential for users outside the airport, threatening control of airspace.

ACI-NA member airports have been proactive on the issue. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hosted a winter working session that included the FAA, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, state police, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others. The PANYNJ issued a statement about the event:

“We are committed to keeping Port Authority airports at the forefront of protection and technology. Federal law empowers federal officials to respond to drone activity. The Port Authority hosted a working session at its World Trade Center headquarters to review and enhance protocols for the rapid detection and interdiction of drones…For security reasons, we cannot discuss specifics. We are committed to continuing our collaboration with the FAA and federal and state law enforcement partners to protect against any and all drone threats to the maximum extent possible.”

The FAA requires pilots that operate near airports use the FAA’s UAS Data Exchange – Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system to identify their craft and UAS operations. One major problem: “The majority of people who use that system are the responsible pilots,” said Thomas Mackie, Aviation Practice Leader and Vice President at Woolpert. “There’s a lot of work to be done to help airports and air traffic organizations, for us in aviation to educate, and for the community to communicate properly back to the airports when flying.”

“It’s frustrating to see these near-misses and know there is potential for an awful accident… They have so much potential to help in airports that we don’t want to see the progress stopped.”

– Marily Mora, FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee

It also means that all players – airports, airlines, air traffic control and the government – get on the same page, Brockman said. “The biggest issue is one that’s probably the most difficult to solve: the identification and acceptance of the sharing of information and the blending of technology across the various industry groups. Right now, everyone operates in a very proprietary way, but in order to truly integrate and manage drones in a safe way, we have to find a way to safely share certain information.”

Brockman believes the solution is best tackled in small bites rather than “the whole enchilada,” which he fears will slow down evaluation, analysis, and implementation. “When you get the ruling that says, ‘That test was a failure, therefore, we’ve got to take a step back and re-evaluate which puts us further behind as technology continues to advance.”

Reno-Tahoe was one of the first seven airports to become part of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system and accounted for about a fourth of the initial approvals, Mora said. She points to the local general aviation airport, the Reno-Tahoe owned Reno-Stead Airport, where NASA has been conducting UAS testing to develop protocols for the integration of drones with manned aircraft. The City of Reno, and Flirtey, a Reno-based UAS company, were selected in May 2018 as one of 10 projects for the USDOT’s UAS integration Pilot Program. More recently, on Jan. 14, 2019, the Nevada UAS Test Site’s Smart Silver State Project was named one of the three projects to mature technologies for unmanned aircraft traffic management.

POTENTIAL FOR GOOD

It is clear that drone technology is coming, and airports must be a participant in driving how drones impact the airspace in the community. That said, airports see positive benefits in their own operations. Woolpert, for instance, uses drones as “another layer of our remote sensing capabilities,” said Mackie. That includes construction site monitoring, aerial photography, pavement and structural assessments, wetland delineation and environmental applications.

Woolpert also advises its airport clients on integration efforts, ranging from regulatory and UAS technology to public outreach and awareness.

Perhaps nowhere is the potential for drone technology more exemplified than at Woolpert client Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia. “They have sections of fence that are in the swamp and are primarily accessible in waders or via boat. Within five minutes of us flying an inaccessible perimeter fence line and showing what we could do, we identified trees that had recently fallen and taken out a section of fence,” Mackie said. “You can’t hire enough people to do this efficiently.”

As one of nine lead participants in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, MSCAA landed approval to test drones at Memphis International Airport for checking the perimeter fence security. It helped that the airport knew the topography of the airfield, what the fence looks like and how it should be maintained. The idea is to input the GPS so that the drone can recognize changes to the fence lines. Brockman sees a future of nesting stations, where a battery of drones can recharge and download information before returning to scan the perimeter, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

When the drone encounters a taxiway or runway, “it will stop and communicate with the tower independently to get approval to cross that area,” Brockman said. If the drone detects an anomaly in the perimeter, it will communicate that personnel need to be dispatched.

The saving of staff time would be enormous, Brockman said, especially if implemented at airports around the world – and the possibility for human error would be removed. It is not a perfect system – not yet at least. “If the battery life and distance can be improved, it will be a phenomenal benefit to aviation by being able to do this,” Brockman said.

Memphis’ tenant FedEx also is participating in the tests using drones to inspect aircraft. Brockman said the drone could be programmed with the manufacturer’s specifications for that exact plane. “It knows every rivet, every protrusion, every light.”

This inspection would not replace the pilot and mechanic inspections, but rather supplement or enhance human inspection.

“Right now, everyone operates in a very proprietary way, but in order to truly integrate and manage drones in a safe way, we have to find a way to safely share certain information.”

– Scott Brockman, Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority

Airports also could use drones in ways similar to large construction projects. “Instead of sending people up on roofs to inspect buildings and facilities, there are several design and engineering construction companies that are using drones to do so,” said Dean Schultz, Reno’s Chief Operating Officer. “They are much more efficient and gathering a lot more data in a short amount of time. We wouldn’t want to miss out on that opportunity as well. Soon, we could have a drone doing the runway inspection.”

With the pace of adoption and improvements of technology, the sky is the literal limit. “There is testing going on every day at airports,” Schultz said. “It’s little by little, following the crawl, walk, run method. We’re in the crawl stage, but it won’t be long before we’re walking and running.”

FUTURE FOCUSED

Mackie anticipates a day when the general public will gain more of an understanding of the potential impact and the importance of abiding by the regulations. Improvement in sense-and-avoid technologies and the UTM also are being developed.

As improved drones and safety mechanisms merge, “that’s going to allow a large variety of UAS applications while helping mitigate the safety concerns with midair collisions and property damage,” Mackie says. “Every year we see better and better safety mechanisms on the aircraft themselves. You’ll see another adjustment to our federal regulation in the U.S., which will ease the ability for more UAS operations over people, over public areas.”

It may be just in time, because drone technology itself continues to march forward and new uses will continue to be adapted, Brockman believes. “At some point, there will be a cost-effective drone that will be able to carry a payload of more than a couple of pounds for longer than 10-15 minutes. When that occurs, the pressure to put some of those things into society without a real good plan to integrate them safely and effectively is really a concern at least for me.”

Brockman believes within the next decade, there will be unmanned, low-altitude personal aircraft that can ferry passengers downtown – and he believes airports can play a role in that. “Business models will operate differently than they do now. How are you going to monetize your airport if you lose parking, because of autonomous vehicles? I see a day when things are so automated that you’ll need to find a new way to monetize operations. You’ll still need miles of runway, terminals to get people on the plane, but how much of this other stuff are you going to need? That will be determined over time.”

“There is testing going on every day at airports… It’s little by little, following the crawl, walk, run method. We’re in the crawl stage, but it won’t be long before we’re walking and running.”

– Dean Schultz, Reno Airport Authority

If there has been one good thing to come out of the recent UAS incidents at Gatwick and Newark, it is an increased awareness, Mora believes. “In both cases, to have operational considerations and delays because of drones, it’s something we don’t want to see happen. It’s going to step up the cry for airport operators to get the drone detection technology that the FAA is working on. This will just speed up the conversation and the need for all of that.” <

TRANSPORT CANADA: TIGHTER RULES

Transport Canada is implementing new rules for drone use on June 1, which will require a certificate for non-commercial drone pilots. These pilots must pass an online examination to receive a pilot certificate. As of that date, they will need to have their pilot certificate and proof of registration readily available.

Other changes coming June 1 raise the altitude at which drones can fly – from 300 to 400 feet in the air. Rules requiring a distance from an airport – 5.6 km (3 miles) – remain the same.

Airports Council Supports Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen CBP Staffing

Maintaining the safety and security of the traveling public is a top priority for airports. With more than 1.7 billion passengers traveling through a U.S. airport in 2017, airports continually work with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to protect passengers while providing an efficient screening process. But, staffing shortfalls from these government agencies have proven to be an on-going challenge for airports.

In recent weeks, there has been significant conversation in Washington to redeploy already scarce CBP officers away from U.S. airports to the southern border.  Airports continue to monitor this situation and remain concerned about any negative impacts to passenger wait times –especially ahead of the busy summer travel season – and delays in cargo processing given the already existing understaffing issues at CBP points of entry at airports.

Now is not the time to divert officers away from airports.  Instead, we should be adding more.  That’s why ACI-NA has applauded recently introduced bipartisan legislation by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to strengthen border security and address personnel shortages at ports of entry. Entitled Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019, this legislation would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire no less than 600 additional officers a year until the agency’s staffing needs are met at America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.

“The airport industry thanks Senators Peters and Cornyn for their leadership in introducing the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act,” said Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International – North America. “This legislation is an important step towards ensuring CBP has sufficient staffing to both address lengthy passenger wait times and open new air service opportunities in communities around the country. It also will provide greater transparency and accountability to CBP’s increasing reliance on reimbursable services agreements and temporary duty assignments to cover its system-wide staffing shortfalls.”

CBP’s current workforce staffing model still shows a deficit of over 3,700 CBP officers. The chronic staffing shortfalls are only expected worsen as CBP deploys the biometric entry-exit requirements mandated by Congress.

The legislation also aims to provide greater transparency and accountability to CBP’s increasing reliance on reimbursable services agreements and temporary duty assignments to cover staffing shortfalls.

More information on the legislation can be found here.