They’ve Built Them….But Travelers Have Not Come

Airport Business magazine had a story titled “Small Airports with Big Dreams,” that profiled some small airports who are giving the crowded bigger airports a run for their money.

In Philadelphia, for example, you’ve got options besides PHL. How about Atlantic City, Lehigh Valley, Trenton and Wilmington, all little airports with limited, yet in some cases, viable options for domestic flyers. Still, it’s a tough battle to get airlines to even consider adding landing rights to the smaller guys.

“Most airlines will not offer much, or any, service at the satellites as long as US Airways Group Inc. maintains a hub with more than 400 daily flights in Philadelphia. The other big airlines need to be at Philadelphia International to draw on the region’s large population and to stay competitive with US Airways.

“The airlines rule,” said George Doughty, executive director of Lehigh Valley International Airport, 60 miles north of Center City on the Allentown-Bethlehem border. “They go where they want to go.”

Air travelers themselves are part of the problem, reluctant to try alternatives to the wide choice of carriers and destinations available at Philadelphia, the directors added.

“Changing the habits of the consumer is probably the most difficult job we have,” said Steve Williams, aviation director for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates New Castle Airport.

The smaller airports regularly send delegations to see airline planning officials, pointing out the disposable income and travel patterns of area residents.

From the airlines’ point of view, concentration of service at hubs is far more cost-efficient, especially at a time of record high jet-fuel costs. While the industry was profitable in 2007 for the second year in a row, most big airlines are expected to report fourth-quarter losses due to rising fuel costs.”