Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 25, 2009

More On Windsor's Cargo Shanty

Edgar is so completely predictable. I am almost embarrassed to point out what he said. Almost.

When the story came out about the problems at Willow Run Airport, it was hardly unexpected for our Mayor to react this way:
  • "The closest air cargo facility to Windsor has seen such brutal cuts in business it's become a "financial disaster."

    But the mayor and city council members say that shouldn't detract Windsor from pursuing its dream of developing a similar operation of its own.

    If anything, Mayor Eddie Francis said the current woes at Detroit's Willow Run Airport could even translate into an added business potential for Windsor and its plans for a "cargo village."

And Councillor Gignac, is she afraid of doing her own thinking or too busy to do so or does she need a foreign consultant to do it for her at a cost of $500K:

  • "With Windsor economically "on our knees," Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac said the city has a responsibility to proceed to the next stage and find out whether it's a good investment for its publically owned but under-utilized airport.

    If that next step concludes it's not a good risk, then "there shouldn't be any embarrassment saying it looked good but it didn't pan out," said Gignac."

Why are we spending anything. Councillor Valentinis should just show us the results of his work:

  • "But Coun. Fulvio Valentinis said that, while the Willow Run experience "sends a signal that you need to be careful ... we need to proceed to the next step." Valentinis said his own research shows that air cargo facilities in other area airports, like Hamilton and Toledo, appear to be doing well."

Of course Edgar is an airport expert since he is Chair of the YQG Board:

  • "Francis said he's "very familiar with the Willow Run situation" and that there are other issues that airport has to deal with, including the fact it is forbidden from hosting airline passenger services other than private charters and that that sector has taken "a huge hit."

Considering half of air cargo is carried on passenger planes, I wish he would get more familiar with Windsor's lack of passenger service.

  • "To a large degree, air cargo traffic relies on scheduled, frequent passenger services in hub-and-spoke as well as in point-to-point traffic. YQG is presently suffering from a lack of scheduled uplift capacity."

Poor Edgar. He got so giddy with glee and jumped for joy too soon. It will be interesting to see if the Star reports this now since it shatters the Mayor's hopes:

  • "Willow Run to stay open despite big revenue losses

    Willow Run Airport will remain open for the foreseeable future despite a sharp drop in revenue, the Wayne County Airport Authority said Thursday.

    News media reports this week highlighting the losses suggested that the authority might shut down Willow Run, which is used mainly by cargo carriers and private planes.

    To lay that to rest, Michael Conway, a spokesman for the authority, said Willow Run will operate on a smaller budget but definitely will stay open.

    "The airport authority for the foreseeable future has no intention of closing Willow Run," Conway said...

    After collecting just more than $5 million in revenue in 2007, Willow Run is expected to see its revenue drop by almost half of that this year, the authority said."

Seriously taxpayers, who needs Lufthansa when internet searches make valuable information available to us at no charge and readers send "heads up" emails pointing out useful information.

As an example, Lufthansa talked about Customs at the airport

  • "Further, the establishment of an integrated Pre-Clearance Facility for cargo intending to cross the Canadian-US border will serve to significantly increase the air cargo opportunities."

Yet they did not mention an important factor in detail which undercuts the at comment:

  • "Christopher Alf (Chris Alf), National Air Cargo (NAC) founder, and other transportation industry experts are speaking out to herald a supply chain solution to meet the congressional mandate of screening 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft by August 2010. The original mandate is a result of the passing of the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, which requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a system to enable the industry to screen 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft commensurate with the level of security used for checked baggage...

    Christopher Alf is quoted as saying: "The current process is so time-consuming that it would be almost impossible to fully implement 100 percent screening in time to make the deadline. This is due to a lack of sophisticated screening technology being available and affordable across the states."

    Christopher Alf continues by stating that "many experts in the industry believe, as I do, that a better solution can be found by certifying trusted supply chain vendors and increasing the number of available screening options."

In other words, border pre-clearance to a large extent will be done at the point of shipment and away from the border as is being done now with trucks.

But here is something even better that was published over a year ago that a reader sent me. As he said,

"Except for the hills, this could be Windsor."

  • "Struggling to Stay Aloft
    Small-City Airports Threatened by Carriers' Service Reductions

    By Sholnn Freeman, Washington Post Staff Writer, Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    LYNCHBURG, Va. -- American cities have long viewed a thriving commercial airport as a source of civic pride, a way to attract businesses and jobs, a selling point promising an easy connection to the outside world. Any community vibrant enough to support a respectable airport, the thinking goes, is a community that counts...

    Now Lynchburg and other small-city airports, which represent the majority of the nation's 524 airports with commercial service, are under threat. Airlines are cutting back service to keep their businesses alive as they confront economic contraction and volatility in oil prices. Smaller airports are vulnerable because they rely on smaller, more expensive planes and with fewer passengers have less economy of scale. Airports are putting together contingency plans for service cuts of up to 50 percent. They are halting expansion projects, freezing hiring and trying to preserve what service they've got.

    Despite millions of dollars spent to improve Lynchburg's airport, departures have fallen from 20 a day a decade ago to just six. Airlines are so reluctant to fly here that Lynchburg can't pay them to come. The airport is dangling a $405,000 incentive package to get an airline to connect the city to a big hub to the north, such as Dulles International Airport or Philadelphia International Airport. The largest part of the package is $250,000 from a small community air service grant from the Department of Transportation. Mark Courtney, the airport director, has met with three airlines to discuss the offer. So far, none has taken the bait.

    Passenger traffic continues to slide. The number of passengers boarding planes at Lynchburg in 2007 was 55,675 -- about half of the peak number in 1994, two years after the new terminal opened.

    "We've reached the low-water mark," Courtney said. "We can't afford to go any lower."

    Collectively, the major U.S. airlines lost $2.8 billion in the first half of the year, according to the Air Transport Association, the airline industry's lobby group. To stem losses, carriers have announced an 8 to 15 percent reduction in flights set to begin later in the year. Aviation analysts predict deeper cuts if oil prices start increasing again after falling over the past five weeks. Jet fuel prices have increased as much as 50 percent this year, compared with a year earlier.

    Even before this year's oil spike, airlines were hunkering down at the nation's 30 largest airports, which account for the majority of U.S. passenger air traffic. But most of the nation's commercial service airports are Lynchburg's size or smaller. They are the ones that will suffer.

    "If you have a 10 percent cut at a place like Dulles, the typical passenger doesn't feel it," said Keith McCrea, manager of air service and policy at the Virginia Department of Aviation. "If you have a 10 percent cut at a smaller airport -- all of a sudden, boom. It might mean one of their five flights is going, or two of their five flights is gone."

    For the nation's smaller commercial airports, he said, the situation is only going to get worse if oil prices stay high. "After Labor Day, it's no secret that we will be looking at another set of capacity reductions," McCrea said.

    The Lynchburg airport dates to 1931. It's right outside of town on the site of a former farm, one of the few flat expanses of land in the area's hilly terrain. Rex Hammond, president and chief executive of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, thinks the area has lost new business prospects as air service has declined.

    "For a business that wants to come to a community, it's not so much what they are looking for, it's finding a fatal flaw," Hammond said. "If you're knocked off the list, you'll never know it. A community that doesn't have a vibrant airport is operating under a competitive disadvantage."

    The biggest user of the Lynchburg airport is Areva, a French nuclear power conglomerate that has a U.S. subsidiary in the city. Areva employs 2,000 people in Lynchburg. Last year, it announced an expansion of 500 employees. A spokeswoman said the expectation of good service at the airport came into consideration when the company decided to expand.

    The airport is 25 minutes from the home of Reggie Pugh, a regional manager at Areva, whose work territory includes Missouri, Kansas, Michigan and South Carolina. He worries about the inconvenience of reduced air service in Lynchburg.

    He can still take a 6 a.m. flight from Lynchburg to arrive in St. Louis or Kansas City, Mo., by 9 a.m. But the dearth of flight options makes it more difficult to get back home. Pugh sometimes has to fly to Roanoke or Charlottesville, then rent a car to drive 60 miles home or wait hours to get the next direct flight to Lynchburg.

    "Our biggest reason for flying is to maximize face-to-face time with customers," he said. "If we're spending more time driving or going through security, we're minimizing that time."

    Leisure travelers have long since abandoned Lynchburg for the airports in Roanoke, Washington, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Cindy Sober, a Lynchburg resident, said that when she flies, she drives to Roanoke, an hour and 15 minutes away.

    Sober said she's never flown out of Lynchburg. "Only for rental cars -- that's the only time I've ever used the airport," she said.

    Since 2000, about $32.8 million has been spent upgrading the Lynchburg airport, including $15 million to expand the runway. About $22 million came from airport improvement grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, $5 million from state sources, $2.2 million from ticket fees paid by passengers and $3 million from airport funds.

    In contrast to the hopes that the investment represents, the airport can be starkly quiet. No 737s roar. During long stretches of the day, there is only the overhead buzz of propeller-driven Cessnas.

    Gate agents can look out the airport windows to see regular customers pulling into parking spaces. The agents chat about the gorgeous mountain sunsets and talk about ever-expanding job descriptions.

    On a recent tour, Courtney, the airport director, swipes a security card and takes the back stairs to the empty jet ramp outside. Stepping onto the tarmac, he notes that the layers of reinforced concrete underfoot are thick enough to support jumbo jets.

    Courtney peers out to a clump of oaks and hardwoods. The long-term plan for expanding the airport has called for building cargo facilities in this "underutilized" space.

    Courtney thinks cargo might be a good bet for the airport and could offset declines in commercial service. The airport recently extended its runway by 7,100 feet to accommodate the take-off needs of planes loaded down by cargo. Courtney said the airport was beginning to explore options for attracting more air cargo traffic.

    "It's a real simple game," Courtney said. "The only way you can get in the game for some of the future growth is having a longer runway."

    But some analysts question the wisdom of allowing Lynchburg and other airports to keep bulking up while service slides.

    Former airline executive Michael E. Levine, a researcher and lecturer at New York University School of Law describes efforts to expand and bolster small airports as "pretty classic regional pork," especially when they are within a few hours' drive of bigger airports.

    "I would say I understand why everyone wants to be on the aviation map, but you have to ask, 'Is this the best expenditure of the public dollar?' " Levine said. "If Lynchburg has difficulty supporting service now, it will have difficulty in the future.