Editorial: Talking Out Of The Box

Industry leaders are eager for dialogue on topics such as network planners, airports and destination hosts.

Credit: Rob Finlayson

Wesley Charnock is Editor-in-Chief of Routes.

While it’s true that the US domestic market has propped up much of the air transport activity across the Americas since 2020, particularly with growth in leisure routes to warmer states, the loss of international networks remains a major factor curtailing regrowth.

Somewhat counterintuitively, California lost the most domestic capacity on its networks between 2019 and 2021, which fell by 38.9 million seats because of a drop in international activity that depressed demand for feed at major city hubs like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

For similar reasons, the states of New York, Illinois, Texas and Georgia saw the highest domestic capacity declines. While point-to-point leisure traffic, particularly among LCCs, has compensated for some of this loss, it remains to be seen whether these price-stimulated routes are sustainable.

The end of US government support for airports and airlines in 2022 will be a significant factor among several simultaneous challenges. Airport fees, for now artificially subdued, could rise. Pilot shortages at regional airlines will become more acute as the majors ramp up service. And oil prices, already higher, could surge depending on the outcome of the Russia-Ukraine crisis negotiations.

More optimistically, vaccination programs coupled with the relatively mild effects of the omicron virus strain have led to some positive developments for international air travel early this year. Australia will reopen its borders next week, while the UK has dropped its testing requirement for overseas entrants. Some countries in Southeast Asia are cautiously reopening.

In the US, demand for travel to Mexico, which has remained open, has been strong, and more capacity was served in 2021 than 2019. This growth includes 31 market pairs that were unserved in 2019, although 36 market pairs lost service. This demonstrates the creativity of network planners throughout the crisis to pivot to new opportunities, and airport and destinations’ ability to present compelling cases to airlines.

This agility will remain important to the air service development industry in 2022 and beyond. With border reopenings, competition to serve markets will grow and come from established players as well as new entrants.

So where are the biggest opportunities? Senior airline executives have told Routes that underserved markets abound in Latin America. New aircraft types, especially longer-range narrowbodies, open the potential to launch market pairs within and outside the Americas that were previously not viable.

Leveraging those opportunities will require out-of-the-box thinking among network planners, airports and destination hosts. And it requires dialogue. Those coming to San Antonio are eager for that in-person dialogue.