The airline industry is experiencing challenges that are negatively impacting our air service. The I Fly Wichita initiative was launched to combat those challenges so that airlines will view ICT as a strong market in terms of passengers and revenue, and be encouraged to add service. Those challenges include:
- Reductions in capacity
- Consolidation in the airline industry
- Pilot union scope clauses
- Pilot shortage
American, Delta and United use a mix of narrowbody and regional jets which enables them to serve small to large markets. However, the small RJs (50 seats or less) are not economical. These airlines are upgauging the small regional jets with larger aircraft resulting in fewer flights. Since 2008, ICT has 28% fewer flights and 9% fewer seats, although seats have been increasing in recent years.
Another challenge is consolidation. The economic downturn in 2008 caused several airline bankruptcies and mergers. There have been five airline mergers since 2007 – Delta and Northwest, Southwest and AirTran, United and Continental, American and US Airways, and Alaska and Virgin America. Twelve domestic hubs have closed. Wichita lost hubs to St. Louis on American, Memphis, Dallas and Cincinnati on Delta. The result? Fewer flight options, fuller flights, less competition.
Pilot union scope clauses limit the number of flights on regional jets as well as the size of regional jets in a market. A scope clause protects the mainline pilots’ jobs from being outsourced to lower-cost regional airlines. In Wichita, 66% of our flights are operated by regional carriers.
The pilot shortage is real. Because of increased training hours, cost of training, and the retirement age of 65, there will be an estimated 15,000 pilot jobs unfilled by 2026, forcing airlines to park as many as 1,500 planes. The major airlines in the US will retire approximately 50 percent of their pilot workforce over the next ten years. With a shortfall of qualified pilots, regional airlines are forced to cancel routes and frequencies. Airports serving small communities are the first to lose service, but as the problem grows, more and larger airports are experiencing service reductions. Over 60 percent of US air carriers are already canceling flights due to a shortfall of qualified pilots.1
Businesses nationwide depend on air service. We have already seen companies relocate in order to be closer to a reliable airline network, taking their jobs, tax base, and investment away from smaller communities. Over the next ten years, the US will lose over $760 billion in GDP if the pilot shortage is not addressed.1
According to our surveys, 42% of the respondents said they will drive to Kansas City or Oklahoma City if Wichita’s fare is $200 higher, and 24% would drive to other airports to save $100. This kind of behavior only helps those airports and not ours. Plus, when you factor in your gas, mileage, time, and parking, you really are not saving that much, if any. Every passenger is important.
You are making a difference. Like ICT, airports across the U.S. are experiencing increased travel demand. Airlines will add service at airports that offer the most revenue potential and minimal risk. Airports are offering attractive incentives to lure airlines to add new service. What else can we do to incentivize the airlines to add service in Wichita? Let us know by commenting on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/iflywichita/
1Aviation Workforce Alliance
Valerie Wise, Air Service Development and Marketing Manager
Wichita Airport Authority