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Can communities and small airports use Social Media to bring air transportation solutions to their people?

by Allen Howell 1. June 2010 11:19
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Over the years of growing our business, I have had the opportunity to meet many airport directors in communities looking for ways to improve air service to their airports. My brother runs an airline in the western US providing air service to many communities through the Essential Air Service (EAS) program funded by the DOT. He has probably been through 100’s of presentations from airports and their support organizations – chambers of commerce, economic development boards and city governments.

All of these airports and the communities they serve want good air service. Why?

They consider air service as a necessary ingredient for business and economic development. When you can connect to the rest of the world by air you can bring business in to your community and create jobs and prosperity. When you are disconnected from the rest of the world you lose out and no one wants to lose out. 

Over the past two years the situation has not gotten better for small airports.

In fact it has gotten worse because airlines have pulled out of many small markets either entirely or they have reduced service to the point that it no longer offers any convenience to the business traveler. Because of the geographic and demographic rules of EAS subsidies, many small airports don’t qualify for the subsidy. They are just a little too close to another airport with airline service but too far away to be convenient. Or they are not quite large enough as a market.  

So far no one has come up with a real solution that fixes the problem of the demand for convenient air travel at a reasonable price in small markets.

Small airlines like Cape Air are doing a good job of filling some of the holes but there are still a lot of airports looking for solutions. Charter companies like my company are glad to pick you up at a small airport and take you anywhere. Our problem is price. We are still to expensive for the average traveler.

As I have sat in on meetings over the years I usually hear the field of dreams story. “Build it and they will come” or in this case “show up and fly and we will fill up your aircraft with happy paying passengers”. If that was the case then why aren’t the airlines showing up and fighting for those passengers?

One of the major issues I see is that no one can really tell you or me today where people really want to go. At best, over the years, consultants to the airline and airports put together a marketing study based on DOT statistics showing Origin and Destination (O&D) traffic flow between cities based on airlines published data. With some statistical tweaking the consultant shows that a quantity of people in a community are flying to or from some close by hub airport and they would all rather leave from the home field if they just could. Those stats rarely translate into a reality for the airline or the home airport because the stats don’t correctly indentify the traveler’s true intentions.

So the question to ask is how we identify the true intentions of travelers, to really know when and where they want to go, and what it is worth to them for someone to meet their intentions.

If, in a perfect world with perfect knowledge at our fingertips, we could reach that point of knowledge could we then meet those intentions with the fleet of aircraft available in this country?

Change gears with me now and think about what is happening in the world of social media: 400 million and counting on Facebook, people tweeting every minute of the day, geo-location technology that knows where I tweet or text from, linked in profiles, and applications like TripIt that tell everyone where I am going and how I am getting there. In the past few weeks Facebook has gotten slapped for their use of the information they have been collecting on all of us but at the end of the day I predict that we will not slow down telling everyone else everything about us. Privacy or no privacy we seem more than willing to let the world know just about anything.  

How could communities and small airports use the power of this information from Social Media to match traveler’s intentions to the supply of travel services? Could they build their very on communities online with the purposes of sharing travel intentions between travelers?  If so they could have the real knowledge of who, where, when and how much as opposed to the statistics that don’t seem to mesh with reality?

Something to think about isn’t it!

You can contact me at allen.howell@flycfm.com

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