1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts

The only major hubs that have averaged 1% or more annual growth, from 2005 to 2016, are Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York – JFK. All four strongly cater to international connections. As such, much of the impacts upon surrounding communities are due to airline scheduling practices for which very large percentages of passengers pass THROUGH the airport, never leaving the terminal, and bringing minimal (even zero) economic benefit to the local community.

The vast majority of airports are in decline. The most precipitous declines are shown at dozens of under-utilized airport facilities, many of which are abandoned airline hubs. The list below shows those airports that are shrinking operationally, with an annual decline of at least 1%, over the 1990-2016 timeframe (ranked from largest decline to smallest decline):

  1. Municipal Dayton – KDAY (…74% decline)
  2. Providence Green State – KPVD
  3. Pittsburgh – KPIT
  4. Islip Long Island MacArthur – KISP
  5. St. Louis Lambert – KSTL
  6. Birmingham – KBHM
  7. Cleveland Hopkins – KCLE (…56% decline)
  8. Burbank – KBUR
  9. Albuquerque – KABQ
  10. San Jose – KSJC
  11. Windsor Locks Bradley – KBDL (…48% decline)
  12. Ontario – KONT
  13. Harrisburg – KMDT
  14. Milwaukee Mitchell – KMKE
  15. El Paso – KELP
  16. Raleigh-Durham – KRDU
  17. Oakland Metro – KOAK (…43% decline)
  18. Long Beach – KLGB
  19. Albany – KALB
  20. Grand Rapids – Kent County – KGRR
  21. Santa Ana John Wayne – KSNA
  22. Syracuse Hancock – KSYR
  23. West Palm Beach – KPBI (…40% decline)
  24. Portland, Maine Jetport – KPWM
  25. Des Moines – KDSM
  26. Rochester Monroe County – KROC

While most airports are declining, a few are seeing growth by capturing those passengers and operations. Hub consolidation is being fueled by these airport declines, including:

  • The NYC hub airports (KEWR, KJFK, and KLGA): drawing from declines at KALB, KBDL, KISP, KPHL, and KPVD.
  • KBOS: drawing from declines at KALB, KBDL, KPVD and KPWM.
  • KLAX: drawing from declines at KBUR, KLGB, KONT, and KSNA.
  • KSFO: drawing from declines at KOAK and KSJC.

Notably, if FAA made a concerted effort to serve the general public (instead of just the few remaining airlines), we would see far less concentration into these major hubs. In fact, we would see healthier local airports, less commute time to/from airports, and significantly reduced impacts near the major hub airports.

Here are notes on a few specific airports:

  • Boston – although somewhat geographically remote from the rest of the U.S., Boston’s function as a Europe gateway translates to a considerable increase in operations. It appears that the impacts upon residential areas are further intensified by paired-hubbing, especially by JetBlue and Delta. In the paired-hub operational model, an airline schedules a large number of daily flights between the two hubs (in this case, KBOS-KJFK, as well as KBOS-KLGA). The high-frequency short hops between the paired-hubs enable efficient filling of empty seats, especially using online sales.
  • Charlotte – As a near-monopoly hub airport for American, KCLT enplanements per capita (for the local population) are roughly four times the national average. In other words, it appears that American’s intensive hubbing may be accommodating roughly three through passengers for each passenger either originating at or terminating at KCLT. This indicates an airport that serves the airline, not the local population. FAA’s role has been to enable airlines to expand their power, to further diminish local control that could (and should) balance against the pursuit of corporate profits.
  • Chicago O’Hare – although Chicago’s large population certainly warrants a major airport, the airport authority and elected officials are relentless in their drive to fly more and more people THROUGH KORD, with near-zero concern for the way neighborhoods are being destroyed. What once was a very complex airport layout is being simplified into a copy of the multi-parallel, east-runways at Atlanta. The two hub airlines most dominant (by far) are American and United.
  • Dallas Fort Worth – When the 1993 Capacity Study was published, KDFW was projected to become (by far) the busiest hub airport in the world. Why did this fail to happen? Because Delta unplugged DFW as their second major hub in the South. This happened in precisely the same way Delta abandoned the huge KCVG hub and left the Cincinnati area. People need to understand that the impact intensities for any given airport are entirely dependent on the whims of airlines, such as Delta, choosing to start up or abandon a hub operation; certainly, right now, a lot of people in the Seattle area know how badly Delta’s 2012 KSEA hub startup is destroying local quality of life.
  • Dallas Love – A fifth airport that also averaged strong growth (nearly 3% per year in the 2005-2016 timeframe) was Dallas Love. KDAL is a Southwest hub that was regulated to NOT function as a hub. The restrictions, known as the Wright Amendment, were imposed in the 1960s, but ended in the last decade. Incidentally, the reason for the restrictions was to protect the enormous investment placed in the development of the new DFW airport hub; i.e., it was necessary for the federal government to impose restrictions that would compel airlines to operate out of the new airport, so as to validate the investment.
  • JFK (NYC) – KJFK commercial operations grew by 26.6% during the 2005-2016 timeframe, to all-time record traffic levels. ATC is accommodating this traffic growth by imposing labor-intensive, such as the infamous ‘Arc of Doom’. Arrivals to all three major hub airports around NYC (KEWR, KJFK, and KLGA) are routinely stretched to include 10- to 20-minutes or more of low, slow flights, including very long fuel-inefficient level-offs. The congestion manifests elsewhere, too; with the publication of RNAV departure procedures, pilots are being pressed to let the flight computers fly departures with such precision that homes underneath are bombarded with unrelenting repetition… one after another after another.
  • Phoenix – a major mid-continental hub for both American and Southwest, and the scene of the crime for a massive abandonment of decades-old noise abatement procedures. The airport’s parallel runways align with the less-populated Salt River corridor, but airlines wanted to slightly shorten their trips. So, FAA aided in the manipulation of the airport authority and a widespread deception of residents and elected leaders, to achieve implementation of highly impactful RNAV routes. It is interesting that, although the impacts were severe (as they should be, given the intense repetition as well as the lower altitudes due to turns closer to the runways), the operations count at Phoenix is actually well below historic highs. If FAA had instead designed RNAV routes that continued to abate excessive noise, the costs to the airlines would have been insignificant and easily absorbed by airfare increases that likely would have been less than a dollar per seat.
  • San Francisco – KSFO commercial operations grew by 31.3% during the 2005-2016 timeframe, to all-time record traffic levels. Hubbing is not only increasing the KSFO impacts, but it is also siphoning traffic away from other Bay Area airports; e.g., note the strong declines at Oakland (#18 in 1990), San Jose (#27 in 1990), and Sacramento (#73 in 1990).
  • Seattle-Tacoma – KSEA commercial operations grew by 20.1% during the 2005-2016 timeframe. Actually, nearly all of this growth has happened since 2012, when Delta announced plans to create a new hub (thus joining Alaska, as the second dominant airline at this major airport); in fact, KSEA commercial operations declined by 10%, during the 2005-2012 timeframe. Shockingly, to handle this congestion, the airport authority (Port of Seattle) is wasting time and money trying to accommodate still further flights, even to the point of investing tens of millions to add temporary staging areas and aircraft service areas.
  • Washington, DC airports – in the sixties, a massive federal investment was made to develop Dulles Airport, with one goal being to reduce impacts in/out of National Airport. Those goals have been abandoned. Today, we have Southwest running a major hub out at KBWI, United hubbing at KIAD, and American dominating at Reagan-National (with lesser hubbing by both Delta and JetBlue). Due to RNAV routes, aimed at increasing runway throughput, many communities are suffering from frequent and repetitive flight patterns, for both arrivals and departures.