A likely explanation for Spokane Airport’s passenger levels

As noted here, Spokane Airport’s passenger levels fell in 2009 to below 1996 levels.  Airport passenger levels are a proxy for the local economy (falling levels are not the fault of the airport). I will eventually post updated 2010 numbers, which I understand are about 4.5% (or more) better than 2009.

Today’s Spokesman-Review says there has been a sharp fall off in short haul passenger flight traffic nationwide. About one-third of Spokane’s current flights are short haul.

The reason for the drop in short haul flights is blamed on the economy and the drop in business travelers:

“One has to speculate about the causes, but what we do know historically about short-haul travel is that it tends to be dominated by business travelers,” Kelly said. “Because of that, it is very sensitive to the economic cycle. In recessions, we have always experienced a drop in business travel.”

via Short flights fall out of favor among airline passengers – Spokesman.com – Jan. 16, 2011.

That conclusion reinforces the idea that the local airport passenger counts are a proxy for the local economy.

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4 Responses to A likely explanation for Spokane Airport’s passenger levels

  1. Do you know how the numbers compare nationally to airports of similar size? Are the low numbers just a result of a weak national economy or are they a specific weakness of Spokane Airports?

  2. InlandNWBlog says:

    Passenger counts have generally gone down at most airports, although not quite as far as locally.

    Boise versus Spokane here: https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/boise-versus-spokane-airport-passenger-trends/

    Seattle versus Spokane here: https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/spokane-airport-passenger-and-cargo-handled-since-1990/

    See the last link for how the airports actual cargo/passenger loads differed almost immediately in 2000 from their ten year forecast. It is not the fault of the airport that the cargo/passenger loads have changed as they have – the change is mostly due to external factors.

    It is fair, however, to fault the airport for not revisiting their long term plan until today. The forecast issued at the beginning of the decade was not just wrong in its first year, the actual data continued to veer away from forecast essentially every year since. And not by “just a little” but by a lot. A related issue is that airport improvements are typically funded by extensive federal government subsidies – which results in incentives to spend money on improvements that we would not otherwise have justified. Just a guess but SIA has probably implemented perhaps close to a quarter of a billion in facility improvements. It really is a great airport – its just not used as much as we expected a decade ago.

    SIA announced in late 2010 that they will update their plans and that plan will be issued in 2011.

    Local airport passenger counts, and especially for an isolated airport, are a proxy for both the national and local economy. How the local trend compares to other similar or area airports can give us an idea of how Spokane’s trend compares to other local economies.

    Spokane’s airport trend is worse off than Boise or Seattle. Boise is an official “comparison” city for Spokane; both cities benchmark off the other to compare how they are doing.

    Spokane has some really unique situations
    – long term declining income, relative to Washington and the U.S. – https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/spokane-income-growth-lags-the-state/
    – recent losses of numerous large employers in tech, tech manufacturing and manufacturing
    – a local economic planning group that just a few years ago was full steam ahead on high tech and manufacturing in the area, has now dropped all of that and is now full steam ahead on making Spokane the center of health care, government and education. Seems like a lack of commitment to long term plans.

  3. Which economic planning group are you referring to?

  4. inlandnw says:

    There is no single economic planning group. Over the years there have been economic development strategies issued by several organizations and agencies.

    Look through the item under “History of Spokane Economic Plans” linked to in the right column of this blog.

    The biggest influence at the present is the State’s “industrial clustering” strategy, which mandates by law that only certain industries will be actively pursued by the State in each of the dozen economic zones in Washington. Details, the history behind the laws that mandate this, and links to the laws and reports are located here
    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/economic-strategies-or-spokane-part-5-clusters/

    The State has identified key “clusters” for each region. All State agencies are required to support the clustering strategy for each region.

    The cluster strategy for Spokane is largely incoherent because it has changed so frequently and variously defines a cluster as a close knit, related group of industries, in close geographic proximity, but then at times defines our local cluster to encompass much of the inland NW south through Oregon and Idaho and east into Montana. The latest Egils Milberg Powerpoint presentation drew an innovation economy circle over a region encompassing Alaska, all of western Canada, and the entire Pacific NW region in the U.S. Please see
    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/washington-states-innovation-ecosystem/

    Other resources:
    City of Spokane’s focus is to build out the University District (formerly known as the Innovation Zone) http://www.spokanecity.org/government/strategicplan/summary/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/more-spokane-economic-history-and-past-planning-programs/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/yet-another-historical-spokane-economy-report/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/another-spokane-economy-historical-document/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/what-does-this-mean-for-spokane/

    A look at Spokane’s job situation by the numbers
    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/washington-state-added-5900-jobs-in-october/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/spokanes-outsized-health-care-cluster/

    https://inlandnw.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/spokanes-lagging/

    There’s much more. But that will give you some reference material.

    There is lots more data hidden around on this web site. You are welcome to use and quote from the information on this web site. I encourage all readers to verify the data for themselves – I do not have an editor!

    I only ask that you cite this web site as your reference. I am “somewhat anonymous” and prefer to stay that way. In reality, I have talked to a lot of people about these issues and they know who I am so that is why I say “somewhat anonymous”.

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