Wednesday, August 22, 2012

With regional jet routes disappearing, smaller communities may be out of the air system entirely

Regional airlines operate half the nation's scheduled flights and are the main links between smaller communities and the national air-service network. But now, as several of those carriers are being closed or are in bankruptcy court protection, big airlines are phasing out smaller and costlier regional jets and cutting some low-traffic regional routes. As a result, reports Charisse Jones of USA Today, many smaller communities may lose some or all of their air service. (AP photo of a Comair jet by Al Behrman)

"We're going to see some airports go dark," William Swelbar, research engineer for the  International Center for Air Transportation at MIT, told Jones. "The highway is going to be the connection to the air network system." 

"We think by 2016, virtually every 50-seat jet or smaller (plane) will be out of the system," industry analyst Mike Boyd told Jones. There are nearly 500 communities in this country "that rely exclusively on regional airlines for their service," said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. "Any one of them … is at risk of losing (some), if not all of its connectivity to the global marketplace in this environment." That troubles Ron Cox, who coordinates production and delivery of big purchases for his company. The Lubbock, Tex., resident says 95 percent of his travel is on regional jets. "Regional jets are the lifeblood of Middle America air travel," he told Jones.

"By 2018 about 100 fewer airports will be served," Boyd said, "but that doesn't mean 100 (more) communities won't have air service." Many people living in smaller cities already bypass the local airport to drive to a larger one farther away, where there are more flight options and lower fares, MIT's Swelbar said. He predicted that maybe only "a handful" of regional airlines will survive the current turmoil. But, he says, they could thrive by returning to their roots, flying independently and providing service to smaller markets that are left behind by larger airlines. (Read more)

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