by Michael Lowrey
The Charlotte Observer had an article out over the weekend titled “Domestic growth is strong, but what does the international future hold for Charlotte Douglas?” The answer is a lot less than the what the UPoR and Charlotte Chamber would have you believe.
The cold truth: Charlotte is US Airways’ secondary hub to Europe, which means that it currently gets the second flight a day the airline offers to a destination to Europe; Philadelphia, as the airline’s primary hub to Europe, gets the first flight. Demand for travel to/from Europe is also strongly seasonal. There are limited number of places in which US Airways generates enough traffic to justify two flights a day, much less two flights a day year round. Indeed, though there are as many as 12 flights a day to Europe from CLT this summer, only three of those flights operate year round — US Airways flights to London Heathrow and Frankfurt plus Lufthansa’s flight to Munich.
The merger only makes the situation more complicated for Charlotte, as the merged airline will also have hubs in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Miami, Chicago, and New York City. CLT’s pattern of European service going forward is going to look much like it does now, with a relatively small number of core flights that operate year round (say two to four) supplemented by some summer-seasonal flights. What the UPoR doesn’t says is the number of flights next summer is likely to be substantially less than the number this summer. It wouldn’t surprise to see the 12 flights a day to Europe we peak out at this summer CLT reduced to between six and eights flights a day in summer 2015. I’d love to hear how having summer-seasonal service to a destination in Europe impacts the Charlotte Chamber’s ability to market the city but apparently that’s not something one asks about.
And let’s be clear here: The fact that that Charlotte Douglas International Airport is planning to add new domestic gates soon where the car rental lots are is hugely significant. The airport has for at least the past 15 years wanted to build a new international terminal on the site. To opt instead for domestic gates with the option of maybe adding customs and immigrations in the basement at a later date pretty much says that CLT will see no meaningful international growth for the remainder of the decade.
Then there’s this:
[Interim Aviation Director Brent] Cagle said he expects the number of international flights will grow as the local population expands.
“The future looks bright, but right now we don’t have just quite enough critical mass of (local travelers) to support a massive influx of international flights,” Cagle said. “All the other pieces are there. We’re very cost-competitive; we have a great location.”
A mass influx of foreign flights? ROFL. And Cagle is making a very basic error, as he’s ignoring that American Airlines is pretty weak to Europe outside of London Heathrow, Madrid, and Paris. Or put another away, it’s not just all about us here in Charlotte.
Jeff Edge, head of the Charlotte Chamber’s economic development team, said direct flights to international destinations are a powerful recruiting tool for luring foreign companies. With the growth of Asian-owned firms in the area, he sees such destinations as potentially more attractive now.
“I think Shanghai would be one of our top two or three destinations, from an economic development perspective,” Edge said. “I think a flight to Tokyo would be of great interest to help us draw more out of Japan.”
What a joke. Delta Air Lines doesn’t even fly from Atlanta to Shamghai anymore. And as for Tokyo, airlines hate long thin routes that overfly their own hubs. Which is exactly what a Charlotte-Tokyo flight would be.
Journalistic fail: I always thought journalists were suppose to present both sides of an issue. The UPoR article features an American Airlines spokesman being as non-committal as you’s expect and then Cagle, Edge, and airline analysts Bob Mann all saying how good CLT’s growth prospects are. Where’s the opposing view? The closest thing to real doubt in the article is this:
Going forward, [Chuck Schubert, American’s vice president of network planning] said international service at Charlotte will continue to be oriented toward the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Although some analysts have speculated that Charlotte Douglas could lose much of its Caribbean and Latin American flying to Miami, Schubert said the two hubs have enough of a different base that Charlotte could support much of its network.
That’s it, 20 words of concern in a nearly 1,500 word story. Though I also think that most of the existing flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America from CLT will remain, using an airline official to rebut concerns about a route or series of routes is questionable, as they’re likely to say everything is fine so as not to scare off traffic even if a route isn’t doing well. That said, no one is now saying that there are meaningful growth opportunities to Latin America from CLT; that just wouldn’t pass the giggle test with the Rio de Janeiro flight ending so soon after the merger.