Flown recently? No? Join the club. Millions of potential passengers are grounding themselves these days. Their reasons include poor service, too-frequent flight disruptions and dubious security measures that produce interminable waits. Meanwhile, a souring economy and soaring fuel costs are only adding to the travel industry’s woes.
That could spell trouble for the Asheville Regional Airport, according to a recent report from the Radnor, Pa.-based Business Travel Coalition. The report, Oil Prices and the Looming U.S. Aviation Industry Catastrophe: A Hole in the Transport Grid, lists 100 regional airports nationwide that it predicts are most likely to lose some or all of its carriers—and the local facility is one of them. “Asheville’s air service could become an unwitting victim of high fuel prices, as multiple U.S. airlines are likely to default and fail in the coming months while other airlines retrench,” the report states.
In a June 26 congressional hearing, Travel Coalition Chairman Kevin Mitchell urged Congress to “stop the catastrophe” in Asheville and elsewhere by eliminating the manipulation of commodities markets, strengthening the U.S. dollar, and giving producers incentives to increase energy supplies and refining capacity and to develop new, environmentally responsible aviation fuels.
“Liquidations at major airlines would have catastrophic effects on the economy, drastically reduce service in cities large and small, and impact people in Asheville whether they work at the airport, rely on air service for business or leisure travel, work in one of many industries that use air cargo for their livelihoods, or serve local offices of national companies that have located in Asheville because of its easy airline access,” Mitchell said in a press release.
At the moment, however, it’s hard to find signs of dire trouble at the airport. True, Delta has just suspended its nonstop flights to Orlando, which use smaller, less-efficient regional jets and cater to leisure travelers who typically pay lower fares than business passsengers. But in June, the airport added daily flights to Houston, Detroit and Newark, N.J. And the total passenger count for the first quarter of 2008—108,874—was only 40 less than the passenger traffic in the first quarter of last year, according to Asheville Airport Authority figures.
Airport spokesman Patti Michel, who has not seen the full report, nonetheless says that all airports are at risk these days, but that Asheville remains optimistic and believes it can weather the storm, especially if it can continue to draw hometown passengers. “That will impress the carriers and continue to say that Asheville is a solid market,” she says.
“With gas prices the way they are, we are concerned,” Michel adds. “However, we do have a positive outlook. Looking at our traffic levels, we are in pretty good shape.”