HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - One would be hard-pressed to name an area not effected by across-the-board budget cuts. Huntsville International Airport says they have very tangibly seen the symptoms of our nation's sequester as well.
"Any time you've got your largest employer in town who has restrictions on travel - we're going to feel that."
Port of Huntsville Spokeswoman Chantal Minish says local travel rates have been down by as much as 20 percent in recent months; a figure far greater than the airport had initially anticipated.
"When we look at our passenger traffic we definitely see a decrease," admits Minish. "We were already planning on lower numbers because we lost Airtran in September of 2012 but around December we started noticing the impacts sequestration has had on our whole community."
Minish says Huntsville International has submitted for a Department of Justice small community airport grant asking for an additional $1.5 million in incentives to couple with the $6 million incentive package rolled out in June 2013.
"We're still waiting to hear if we've been awarded that grant or not so, you know, fingers crossed."
Minish says one of the most frustrating things for the airport is the fact that actual fares are dictated by airlines and market demand. Airlines were de-regulated in 1978 while individual airports still deal with a plethora of restrictions, she says.
The airport has now initiated a digital effort asking the community to help them make a plea for more oversight and control.
"We did launch a petition and it's available on our website at flyhuntsville.com. You can sign up there for the petition just saying, you know, we would support our airport being able to negotiate air fares for our community."
Minish says another concern for the airport is the proposed merger between American Airlines and US Airways. Last week a federal judge has ruled that the federal government’s lawsuit to block the proposed merger will begin November 25.
Air travel expert Bill Swelbar will address the community at a public meeting Tuesday, Sept. 10, on his recent study analyzing average fares at more than 450 U.S. airports, including Huntsville International Airport (HSV). The public meeting will be held at 5:15 p.m. at the UAH College of Business Administration Chan Auditorium.
“It is safe to say that the U.S. airline industry has forever changed. This new normal has resulted in communities of all sizes losing air service and we’re seeing increased prices across the board,” said Swelbar. “Huntsville is quite a unique community when you look at its air service, and I think many will be surprised to see how Huntsville stacks up.”
Swelbar will present findings relevant to Huntsville from his studies and answer questions from the community. He co-authored “Evolving Trends of the U.S. Domestic Airfares: The Impacts of Competition, Consolidation, and Low-cost carriers” along with Michael Wittman. This is the third white paper at MIT on small community air service. All three studies can be found by clicking here.
“We encourage our community to attend this town hall meeting and engage in an open conversation about fares and how Huntsville fits into the national landscape of air service,” said Rick Tucker, executive director for HSV.