Air Service 101: How New Flights Become Reality

This is part two of a two-part series on air service. Read part one.

We’re all familiar with the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, in today’s economy, when it comes to air service, it takes an entire region to gain and retain air service.  That’s because the aviation industry is in a low risk, limited growth mode in a flat economy and because communities across the nation are working harder than ever to bring new service to their airports.

So how does a new flight become a reality?  In our last post, I shared about the many different ways to improve air service.  This time, we’ll focus on some of the factors involved with bringing a new destination to RDU.

It starts with either the airport noticing a large market demand to an unserved destination or an interest is expressed by the business community.  On average, 100 people traveling back and forth between destinations makes a good base case for a new, non-stop route.

At least 100 passenger flying back and forth to a destination each day is needed to make the case for new non-stop service.

Then, the analysis begins.  How are people currently reaching that destination? What airlines do they use and how many connections do they make before reaching their final destination? How long does the travel take? What is the average fare for the trip? Are more people originating from RDU or from the other point? And, by looking at passenger volume trends, we can determine if it is a growth market.

But this is just the beginning. It goes beyond the numbers when we seek to determine what ties exist between the two cities. This includes looking at common industries, companies with offices in each location and tourism interests. Then we dig deeper by talking to the appropriate community partners such as the Life Science, Finance or Tourism industry folks to further identify these links and assess the travel needs between the two destinations.

Once we have a good business case, we present it to the air carriers whose route patterns or growth interests fit with our case.  You might ask why do we have to present anything, don’t air carriers already know?  When you think about the hundreds of thousands of market combinations possible just in the United States, you will realize that even the most sophisticated airline planning departments appreciate the insight that only the airport community can bring to the bare numbers.

Then, there’s often a time of patience, persistence and persuasion.  We often must wait for aircraft availability or an air carrier’s own strategic planning decisions.  We’re persistent in that we are in constant contact with all our air carrier partners all the time about many destinations.  We’re persuasive in what we, the airport, along with you the community, can say to convince an air carrier that the Research Triangle Region is the low risk, high reward market in which to make a multi-million dollar investment with each and every flight decision.

And there is more. When a new route is announced, the airport and the air carrier must work to market the service to ensure the new nonstop is used instead of one-stop connections.

So, how long does this process take from start to finish? It can take anywhere from a few years to many years. Consider, for instance, our new non-stop flight to San Francisco via United Airlines, which launched in August.  The process of bringing that flight to fruition took a little more than 10 years. But, rest assured, we’re always working to bring new and improved travel opportunities to RDU because it is our mission to be a world-class airport by serving the needs of the Research Triangle Region.

About Teresa Damiano

Teresa Damiano is the Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. She directs air service development, guest services, communications and customer service. And, she's not afraid to bribe an airline with her famous homemade lasagna.
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