It's an annual headline: “Huntsville/Decature International Airport Most Expensive In the US.” And those of us who live in the Tennessee Valley know it's true – including local political leaders and the airport authority. To their credit, they're doing their best to lower fares. Problem is, they aren't too successful.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's fourth-quarter analysis this morning showed Huntsville's average airfare was $528 – $147 higher than the national average. Huntsville's average ticket cost was $31 cheaper than it was in the third-quarter fiscal 2013 report, where fares were $559 per passenger.
One problem with their strategy is that it revolves around using tax money to bribe commercial airlies to come to Huntsville. Generally, like most of Alabama's corporate welfare giveaways to industry, there's little or no accountability. We've noted this before at LIA:
I found this very enlightening grant proposal from 2009 where the Huntsville International Airport is requesting a $1.5 million federal grant (to be combined with $1.8 million in local funding and fee waivers.(page 24) It was to be used to help lure AirTran.
In 2004, the airport received a grant to subsidize now-bankrupt carrier “Independence Air” (it stayed 16 months) and in 2007, handed out “incentives” to Allegiant Air, which stayed less than a year.
So naturally, in 2009, the airport wanted more money to “do the same thing over and over.” And, although the grant application cites the airport's “successful implementation” of the 2004 grant as a reason to get another one, page 14 contains this nugget:However, the program proved to be less successful than originally anticipated. Initially carriers were willing to participate in programs to lower fares, but the response was mediocre at best. Additionally, theairport was successful in attracting Independence Air to provide low cost service; unfortunately, the company went out of business in 2005.
Having spent $4.5 million to lure low cost carriers who subsequently went out of business or left the airport, the airport authority decided to try something new: pay legacy carriers $6 million to lower fares and provide better customer service.
That's right, campers! Let's PAY large corporations to provide good service. Why did nobody think of that before?
Maybe because that silly plan will get you sued by…. the people slated to receive the money.
Wow. Sometimes you just can't give money away – particularly if it's to pay private businesses to improve customer service. At least, that's what's happening at the Huntsvile International Airport. Airlines that serve the airport are threatening to sue the airport authority because it's offering to give them millions to improve customer service.
So now, after all those years of cajoling the US Government for federal grant money to hand over to airlines, here it is 2014 and nothing has changed. Huntsville still has the highest average airfares in the county.
Obviously, the previous strategy didn't work, so the airport has launched a PR campaign and an online petition for people to complain. Not about our high airfares, but about the $%^% survey methodology!
In mid-January, the airport launched the “I Fly HSV” marketing campaign to capture what local families and business leaders enjoy most about their community airport. The $313,000 initiative has an 18-county reach and includes TV, billboard and radio advertisements.
Minish said the airport, which takes issues with the BTS ranking, is looking forward to the release of the second-quarter fiscal 2014 report to determine how or if the American Airlines sale impacted the overall cost of fares.
The Huntsville airport has an online petition passengers can sign in response to the BTS ranking.
Now, that's just sad. That whole “challenge the survey” thing didn't work for Mitt Romney, and I doubt that “Hey, y'all! Did you know Huntsville has an airport?” or “Tell those gosh darned intellectuals that their survey sucks” campaigns will do any good either.
The problem here is the huge number of business travelers and government contractors using the airport. Travel cost is just part of overhead to be rolled into a contract. The airport is fighting a losing battle against the “free market.” Airlines have no incentive to change a system that works just great for them.