How many visits did an Allegiant Airline official make to Tulsa before announcing service here to Orlando?
Instead, Tulsa airport representatives kept contact through email and phone calls, reaching out to the Las Vegas-based airline to present the financial details of setting up service at Tulsa International Airport.
"I can tell you that's one of the challenges we have as a city, is working with airline planners that have never been to Tulsa or have never been to Oklahoma," said Alexis Higgins, deputy director of marketing for the Tulsa Airport Authority, the 150-employee group that manages airport operations.
Face-to-face meetings with Allegiant officials were limited to visits at trade conferences, where Higgins described how cities vying for more service meet up with airlines open to hearing their pitch.
"There's a couple of airlines, airport conferences where they set up meetings with airports and we get about 20 to 30 minutes to meet one-on-one with an airline's planners," Higgins said.
To say the least, it's highly competitive when airports seek to bring new air service to town.
While Tulsa last month landed Allegiant -- and began offering service to a top 10 market for flights originating out of Tulsa -- earlier this year United Airlines announced it was stopping non-stop flights to Los Angeles. The airport currently has non-stop service to 16 destinations, including Orlando.
In July, the airport authority board made the move to eliminate landing fees for 18 months when airlines provide service to a new route -- whether they be a total newcomer to Tulsa, like Allegiant, or a carrier already operating in Tulsa.
For an airline operating at an airport, many factors contribute to their expense. But "probably their biggest chunk of costs comes from landing fees," Higgins said.
Those fees are calculated based on airport operating expenses, Higgins said. The newly-in-place incentive -- also includes discounted terminal rental fees for any new carrier, Higgins said.
With regards to Allegiant, "I think that helped secure their commitment, because that really helps mitigate the risk," Higgins said.
Higgins said Tulsa was merely doing what it takes to remain competitive. John Hansman, director for the International Center for Air Transportation, agreed on the importance of incentives.
"What's happened in the past few years, there's been a lot of pressure on the airlines, particularly because of the increased costs of fuel, so that makes it tougher on the airlines to make a profit," Hansman said. While incentives aren't new, in "that kind of environment, an incentive becomes a bigger factor than it was earlier," he said.
Researchers at the center described how such a trend is taking shape nationally in a May report analyzing small community air service.
"Along with direct financial transfers in exchange for service, airports have also offered gratis advertising, revenue guarantees, and waived landing fees to attract airlines," the report noted.
But the authors also wrote that offering such incentives can be a double-edged sword, as "conducting too many of these deals runs the risk of drawing the ire of incumbent airlines, who may threaten to exit if they do not receive the same preferential treatment as a new entrant."
What is the best way to measure air service from an airport?
MIT researchers also published a separate report published in June outlined a new scale to measure "connectivity," citing Tulsa in explaining how non-stop routes alone aren't the only meaningful measure.
"Like many small-hub airports, Tulsa International Airport (TUL) in Tulsa, OK, lost service to many nonstop destinations over the last six years.
Nonstop destinations decreased from a high of 25 in 2008 to 18 in 2012. However, one-stop destinations accessible from TUL actually increased over the same period, reflecting an increase in the number of connecting options available from the airports that TUL serves nonstop," the report states.
In this measure of connectivity to other destinations, Tulsa ranked ninth out of 21 such "small hub" airports that enplaned at least a million passengers in 2011. By comparison, Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City ranked fourth.
Overall though, even Will Rogers has seen a decline in connectivity and numbers of flights. Researchers noted a sharp decline in the average connectivity at such "small hub" airports from 2007 through 2012.
"On the whole, small community airports have struggled to gain back connectivity since airline capacity discipline started in earnest in 2011, as airlines kept domestic capacity deliberately restricted despite the start of macroeconomic recovery in the country and stability in fuel prices," the report states.
The outlook? Not so good.
"Barring any significant positive or negative macroeconomic shock, the downward trend in connectivity at small and medium-size airports will likely continue, but the pace will most likely slow as airlines have already removed most redundant flying from their networks," the report states.
The report does take note of the now-uncertain American Airlines and U.S. Airways merger. While Tulsa leaders have seemingly unanimously voiced displeasure -- if not anger -- at a legal maneuver from the federal government seeking to block the merger's completion, officials elsewhere supporting the lawsuit have cited a concern about decreased routes and service.
As the MIT report notes, such a merger "could place further downward pressure on connectivity as schedule and route redundancies are removed from the combined airline's new network."
Regardless of the uncertainties facing that merger or the business concerns of individual airlines, Higgins said the Tulsa airport continues to try to bring more service to town.
"Back in February, when we launched the Tulsa air service initiative, part of that includes a business travel survey," Higgins said. By having such a survey, Allegiant Air was able to learn that Orlando actually ranked eighth on that list of popular destinations, Higgins noted, though the company's business model involves bundling hotel packages with air fares, with a "book vacation" feature on the company's website featured prominently.
In Tulsa, the low-cost airline is offering flights to Orlando twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.
Higgins said the airport plans to move forward with reorganization that's expected to lower operating costs, which are used to calculate fees charged to carriers.
"It's a coordinated effort," Higgins said of the work that goes into attracting and retaining air service. Information gathered from the community, along with "just the ongoing, persistent dialogue between the airport and the air carrier," must also involve enough flexibility to respond to airline expectations, she said.
"So that we know and we can make adjustments if needed to prioritize our operating costs and lower them as best we can in order to be competitive," Higgins said.
Send all comments and feedback regarding City to email@example.com
Share this article: