Spokane: When news breaks, not much happens

An incident occurred Saturday night that shows the impact of local news room cut backs.

The Incident

Around 9 pm on Saturday, there was a murder, followed by a suicide during the night. Police, sheriff’s deputies, State patrol, SWAT team equivalent, negotiators, K-9 teams, police reserves, an armored vehicle all arrived and the sheriff’s helicopter circled over head for hours. Nearby apartments were evacuated and streets were closed off much of the night. Dozens of officers were involved. This is a big deal in Spokane.

Local News Coverage

Let’s look at how this was covered by the news media in Spokane …

Saturday

  • 9 pm: Shooting occurs, police respond.
  • 11 pm: KXLY – zero coverage.
    11 pm: KHQ and KREM have short phone calls with their photographer on scene.
    11 pm: The Spokesman-Review tweets that a shooting occurred.
  • 12 Midnight: KHQ and KREM add six sentence stories to their web sites.
  • (Update: As added in a comment to this post, KHQ and KREM did “okay” – not great, but okay. See the comments for more information.)
Sunday

Was this an important story in Spokane? As of Monday, this was the #1 most viewed story at the local TV station web sites.

Does Spokane’s news media lack resources to cover urgent, breaking news outside of regular business hours?  Looks that way.  They may want to take an introspective look at how they could do better.

What impact will the lack of news resources have on a community in terms of losing coverage of urgent news events, local government initiatives, education, business activities, economic development, and projects pushed by local developers?

Update: One week later, here’s an example of a smaller deal that was reported and online quickly, rather than 18 hours later. Hopefully the event above led to some new ideas for covering timely news.

Percent of Spokane High School Seniors Taking the SAT Exam

SAT exam scores are required for application to most 4-year college programs.

The percent of Spokane area high school seniors taking the SAT exam – and hence likely to be college bound – has continued its multi-year collapse.  57% of all Washington high school seniors took the SAT last year but in Spokane, the total is 36%.

This may solve the mystery as to the excitement over more low wage warehouse worker and call center jobs opening in Spokane:   that’s what the workforce here is qualified to do. But seriously, shouldn’t we be frightened of this trend? What steps could be undertaken to address this?

The data comes from the Community Indicators of Spokane web site and is updated from that previously shown on this blog.

Related: 80% to 92% of local community college students need to take remedial math. That compares to 60% nationally.

Updated January 2014:

Follow the line from left to right – the percent of Seniors taking the SAT has gone up nicely, albeit, still lagging the state as a whole (green line).

SATScoresThru2012

Spokane Airports Update

Total passengers remain below 1996 levels . 2011 data is estimated from operations through May of 2011. Passenger travel through SIA has been flat for about 16 years.

Air Cargo has fallen sharply. 2011 value is estimated from current data through May of 2011. While the overall trend is down, there has been a slight increase in 2011.

General aviation operations at Felts Field have collapsed. The airport blames the weather.  Weather is a factor, but high fuel prices and an insufficient local economy may be larger factors.  Area fuel prices are about $6 to $7 per gallon and $5 to $6 per gallon in Idaho.

The data suggest that like a decade ago, the new airport Master Plan is already out of date.  Here’s the year 2000 forecast for passenger boardings and cargo loading at SIA:

Here’s the official Airports press release.

Lawrence J. Krauter, Airport Director, Spokane International Airport, commented, “What
is notable about May’s performance is that enplanements were only down 2.5% against a
12% reduction in available seats, which indicates that demand remains strong from our
travelers.”

In the context of the old forecasts, that quote is hilariously funny.

A news story updates the concrete pouring at Spokane International Airport:

Getting There: Runway work reaches halfway point at airport – Spokesman.com – July 11, 2011.

Pouring concrete at SIA, says the story is “an important component of Spokane’s economy” and seems to be a primary purpose for SIA. Read the whole story.

While involvement in this web site has been cut back, we intend to continue updating the airport, general employment and income reports as these are important economic indicators for Spokane.

Spokane Airport passenger traffic update

Update: The May 2011 numbers are available and its worse than expected.

—————————

As of April 2011, passenger counts are running almost the same as 2010, suggesting 2011 will remain similar to or below 1996 passenger levels.

Airport passenger counts are a proxy indicator of the local economy. This suggests that Spokane’s economy is still stuck.

Felts Field air traffic has fallen a sharp 18.34% since a year earlier. Possibly due to the high cost of fuel – and (update) bad weather. (Update – if due to bad weather, we should see improvements in July and August. If we do not, then the problem lies elsewhere. Traffic was also down for May 2011.)

Read more of this post

A meaningless correlation: Bloomsday participants versus Spokane Airport passenger counts

Chart shows annual Bloomsday event participants versus annual Spokane International Airport passenger counts, scaled to fit on the same chart.

Is the correlation random?  Probably.

Here is an updated Spokane International Airport historical passenger count trend line. Updated through end of year 2010.  For January and February 2011, passenger counts are running slightly below 2010 levels (not shown in chart). SIA passenger traffic remains roughly flat for 15 years and is a proxy indicator of the state of Spokane’s economy. In other words, Spokane’s economy is roughly flat for 15 years.

Here is airport traffic operations (e.g. takeoffs and landings) for Felts Field trend line:


Data for both charts comes from SpokaneAirports.Net.

Recommendations 2: Part 2 – How to “hide the decline”

Some local agencies and organizations provide some data, and some times, information, on their web sites – but sometimes they practice “hide the decline”. We do not know if this is due to lack of resources, is inadvertent, is an “honest mistake”, is due to sloppiness or carelessness, incompetence or deliberate decision to hide something, or that my common sense interpretation of what I see is just weird. We don’t know.

But if you want to hide the decline, some of the examples may give you some ideas 🙂

These examples involve good to outstanding organizations who are usually doing good to outstanding work. These comments are intended as suggestions for improvement and should be taken that way. They may be embarrassing to a few people – I am sorry if that is the case. The goal is to show how improvements can be made to make these items better!

Spokane International Airport – Lots of Numbers

SIA is a fine airport and has done a lot very good things. But sharing data?  Not where they need to be. I’ve covered this item already and am repeating this here in part to show what it took to get to the actual data and turn it into useful information.

The airport’s long term passenger load has been approximately flat since 1996. But you would not discover this unless you tortuously went through the tables of numbers they provide, but spread across many pages and many links. And you would definitely not know this because the historic data back to 1995 was well hidden on the web site. When you click on a link for the data for a single month, you see a URL like this: http://spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/12-10ep.pdf

If you delete the filename at the end to leave http://spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/

you obtain the full file directory of older data going back many years. While painstaking, each monthly report can be transcribed, by hand, into spreadsheet, and turned into a useful chart.

Hidden deep within this file directory is a document named historic.pdf that provides historic data. There is no clickable link on the airports web site to access this data. But the file becomes visible if you use the trick to truncate the URL as shown.

Regardless of the effort to get to the data, it should not be hidden. SIA should have charts up on their web site.  Making it visible would help local leadership make informed decisions.

When this data was combined with a forecast chart in the airport’s master plan (issued in 2000), we saw that the forecast was wrong the year it was issued and deviated further and further away from reality every year since. The forecast part of the chart had to be interpolated from a chart printed in the master plan; the data was not available.

The airport management announced in the fall of 2010 that they would – ten years later – be updating their master plan with a revision expected in 2011.

By comparison, check out SeaTac Airport Statistics. The PDF reports at the top create some nice charts (would be better if they were visible on the web page) and data can be downloaded in .xls spreadsheet files. Here’s an example of how SeaTac makes their data accessible – I just opened their PDF report:

I tried to identify the money spent on infrastructure improvements at SIA over the past decade. That information is not obviously available on the SIA web site. I eventually found it in an EWU study on economic effects of the airport (about $190 million of improvements over the past 8 years). Historic and trend data on revenues and spending should be easily available to the public so we know how our fee and tax money is being spent. This applies to all local governments.

I think SIA is a fine airport – the new airport director and management will likely do a better job of sharing important information with stakeholders in the future.

Washington State University – Funny Press Releases

I am big supporter of WSU; we need more support for higher education in this state, not less. And I will discuss that further in Part 3 and Part 4.

With that in mind, I found the following example to be funny. The following text appeared in the 2010 press release on spring semester enrollment. Similar wording was used in 2009 and 2011. Can you spot the odd one out?

The university’s fastest-growing campus continues to be WSU Tri-Cities, which enrolled 1,508 students, an increase of 160 or 11.9 percent over last spring. Enrollment at WSU Vancouver is 2,892, up 105 students or 3.8 percent over spring 2009.

The Pullman and Spokane campuses, which are considered one campus for state enrollment reporting purposes, showed an overall increase of 1.3 percent or 265 students over spring 2009. The Pullman campus enrollment is 18,629 students and WSU Spokane has 1,311 enrolled for spring.

When the enrollment rose at branch campuses, the enrollment increase was highlighted.  For WSU-Spokane, only an enrollment number is provided. That’s a data point – not information.

The omission of whether there was an increase or decrease made me laugh – this is a press release issue. The local media never noticed the decline in enrollment at WSU-Spokane.

WSU has  an Institutional Research office that provides a lot a TON of data –  on enrollments including in downloadable .xls spreadsheet format.  Charts would be nice but with easily accessible data, we can create our own charts. WSU (overall) and the IR group are doing a great job.

The chart above and below are produced by me from the enrollment data provided by WSU’s Office of Institutional Research.

It is hard to see but the blue line, which is Spokane’s enrollment, goes down. I created this chart and an accident of how I made the chart presents an interesting way to hide a decline – just cover it up with other lines on the chart! This is a common technique but blame me for this chart, not WSU!

To see the decline a bit better, here is a chart showing only the branch campus enrollments. The blue line and section represents WSU-Spokane.

WSU provides a lot of great data through their Institutional Research web site. It could be improved with more charts – but they are to be commended for providing the raw data. But the press release wording-that’s just funny!

The WSU-Spokane campus will be revisited in Part 4.

The News Media – Lacking Context

It would be helpful if local news would present trend charts showing how things have changed over time. Typically, they present the raw number someone put in the press release (like the above). Without seeing the historical trend in news reports, the story is just noise and not useful information that the reader can use for understanding.

For example, compare seeing today’s stock report with no knowledge of where the market has been yesterday, last month or during the past years.  Which is more useful? A single stock price quote or a chart? Numbers in most news stories are just numbers and devoid of important context.

When I tracked down the companies that left the area or downsized, it was hard to find out how many employees the companies once had. When a company folded or moved out, and if the closure was even covered (we cover new business openings but sometimes miss closures) some news reported the loss of employees as of the last day. But most of these companies had been downsizing for a period of time. I saw one report that said when Agilent closed, it was the loss of 99 jobs. Really? The company had been downsizing from a high of at least 1,500 staff.  Some old reports said that when contract workers, consultants, on-site vendors and others were included, the site in Liberty Lake might have had nearly 2,000 people total (SR news article quoting former Agilent Human Resource manager). Seeing the total loss in context – from between 1,500-2,000 workers is quite a bit different than reading about a loss of 99 workers (update: the SR, by the way, reported this with the full context).  When Itronix closed, 380 workers were affected. But just before that, the company had 450 workers and may be even 520 said some old news reports.

Seeing the full context helps us understand the overall impact of a business that is growing, shrinking or closing.

With all the cutbacks at the local media, I assume they lack the time and resources to do the job that they really want to do (I think this is the main issue). The problem affects many stories. For example, reports about local and state budgets never show us past budget plans, actual spending or tax revenues or trends in those values.  This is critical information needed for the reader to put the present situation into historical context and see what trends there might be in spending or taxes.

And then there’s the happy talk news – read the comments to this news story – especially the one by “Zelda” … see how leaving out the context creates a “fake but accurate” style of report.

Local Government – More Info Please!

Most local government agencies need to greatly improve their data reporting to the public.  How has their spending changed over time? Their staff? Their revenue collection?  What metrics do they collect to monitor their effectiveness? Do the metrics show improvements over time?

GreaterSpokane, Inc – Pick Cherries!

A time honored technique to minimize a decline is to just move the start or end points of your graph  – delete the data you would rather others did not see.

In 2010, I looked at patent production per 100,000 population, which is a measure sometimes used to indicate a region’s innovation capability.  GreaterSpokane, Inc (GSI), used the following table to show only a minor drop in local patent production:

The “trick” here was to set the start to 2004. In reality, the local patent production rate fell by -75% since the late 1990s. The chart above may have been due to insufficient research, an “honest mistake”, carelessness or that someone else handed them the chart and they just republished it.  They may not have been picking cherries.

GSI’s job is to promote the region. Understandably their focus is promotion and to highlight the positive. However, as a means for understanding our local economy and planning purposes, GSI’s reports can be misleading as they focus on the positive and miss the negative.

GSI’s web site also has a lot of out of date information. They need to audit every page – and verify that every claim is still true or meaningful.  For example, about 25% of their list of top local tech employers are either out of business, not actually tech companies or not local.

Various local web sites also have lists of “awards” or proclamations by magazines about life in Spokane – but most are undated. Tracking some of them down, some are old and no longer mean anything useful about today’s Spokane.

There are other examples but you get the idea.

As we will see in the next two examples, when we see sloppiness, it makes Spokane look dated, quaint and out of date. We can do a lot better than this!

Terabyte Triangle – Spokane is a High Tech Hot Spot!

This phrase “Spokane is a High Tech Hot Spot – Network World Magazine” appears on many local promotional web sites.  Unfortunately, it is not what Network World actually said. What Network World actually said all the way back in 1998 was that “Spokane is not a high tech hot spot, but is warming up“.

Inaccurate claims such as that are sloppy or untruthful. Take your pick.  Who knows where this phrasing first appeared – its on several local web sites and I suspect the claim developed a life of its own.

DowntownSpokane.org

This is a very useful web site with great information about downtown happenings.  But like the above, some pages are hopelessly out of date.

We begin with, oh dear:

  • Spokane is a high tech hot spot – Network World

Then,

  • Downtown Spokane is a great place for high-tech with more miles of fiber per capita than any other city in the nation

The “more miles of fiber per capita than any other city in the nation” is really, really old. No source has ever been provided for this old claim.

This is quote also has a life of its own across many local web sites. GSI quotes IEEE Today’s Engineer for the source of this, giving the claim a bit of authority. But some sleuthing around suggests that IEEE Today’s Engineer lifted the claim directly from a local promotional web site … nearly identical wording appears on other local web sites up to two years prior to the published story. That does not look good … And today, Spokane ranks #17 out of 19 cities in Washington for overall Internet access speed. In other words the above claim, if it was true once upon a time, is doubtfully true today. But what ever …

Going down the page, this claim is  embarrassing:

  • More than 20 Downtown buildings have been rewired to provide easy and affordable access to high-speed—and redundant—internet connectivity

Only 20? Hello? It’s 2011 and this may be a surprise but in many parts of the country, personal homes even have fiber optic connections today!

  • Spokane is already home to high-tech firms including General Dynamics, Cyan, Vivato, Telect and Itron. This clustering of mutually beneficial businesses provides a synergism that attracts businesses providing support services to help high-tech companies grow.

Except that General Dynamics (Itronix) is closed and gone, Vivato is closed and gone and Cyan and Telect have both shrunk their local presence considerably from their hey day.  But other than that …

Always a nice supportive quote:

  • “There are clusters of established companies here that high tech start-ups can draw from, plus a lot of interest in creating business to business relationships.”

Except the quoted CEO was with a start up that is no longer in business. Nice quote, too bad its not quite relevant anymore.

Other pages (and here too) are dated and should be brought up to date. The above is just a small sampling of questionable data and claims seen on local “official” web sites.

Have you spotted a pattern in promotional web sites? They are often old and out of date and say things that are no longer true.  Collectively it reflects badly on Spokane.  Attention to detail? Not here. Inaccuracies and incorrect claims do not help promote the area at all.

I am sorry these observations appear embarrassing to some local groups. Whether I write about them here or not they are out there for the world to see and they are embarrassing. Let’s pay attention to details and fix them and make these web sites even better!

Recommendation 2: Part 2

For what ever reason – honest mistakes, laziness, sloppiness, lack of attention to detail or perhaps  “hiding the decline”, the sort of things described above – and those are only a partial list – suggest “good enough” is common here.  Parts 3 and 4 will address why good enough is not good enough – we need to aim high and seek excellence.

On a brighter note – Good ideas come from other good ideas!

Good ideas come from analyzing, synthesizing and understanding what we see around us. Getting an accurate picture of the situation in Spokane and at local institutions will help all of us know where we are and help us to make better decisions to get to where we want to go!

Local agencies need to be producing useful information, not just data points (see Part 1).

Local agencies and organizations need to making their useful information readily accessible to everyone (Part 2).

Local agencies and organizations need to provide accurate information.

The more accurate data and useful information that all of us see, the better the quality of our decision making!

The Part 2 recommendation is then:

  • Accurate data, portrayed accurately is best for all of us. All of the mistakes above (and that is just a sample) when seen together portray an area that is sloppy or careless. This does not make Spokane look good.
  • Clean up old promotional web sites, audit every page and every claim
  • For those of us who consume data and information, keep your eyes wide open for sloppiness in the data provided to us – be skeptical!
  • If you have responsibility for any of the above – let’s fix these and make them better!

Part 3 reviews the low wage problem and hypothesizes that we’ve been investing in pouring concrete for far too long. For the 21st century we need to invest in people and ideas, not more concrete.

Part 4 follows up with more on our concrete obsession, but adds that we seem to aim low instead of aiming high.

Coming: Recommendations 2

I expect to post several items on recommendations for addressing the long term malaise that grips Spokane. I have outlined 5 or 6 separate item topics but no idea when that will come out – will have to wait until I have time to write them up.

The situation in Spokane is a tough problem. I only get to work on this in my spare time. There are some in town who are paid to be working on these problems and they are not doing a great job (with some exceptions that I will mention eventually).

Some themes of past recommendations – just search this web site to learn more:

  1. The importance of a creative culture
  2. The importance of innovation to the local economy
  3. The importance of a significant research university presence
  4. The importance of looking at data over a lengthy period of time to understand trends

(2) and (3) appear in nearly every economic strategy report for Spokane for the past three decades.

The series of Recommendations 2 will hit a bit harder and will name some groups that are not doing their jobs very well and what they need to do differently. I hope to propose some new ideas to jump start economic growth in Spokane once again.

More background data on Spokane International Airport

Historical government spending in the United S...

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More Spokane International Airport historical data from an EWU produced report on the economic impacts of SIA:

After sharply growing during the 1990s, Airport passenger and air cargo growth has slightly increased since 2001, largely as a consequence of local economic conditions and population growth as well as international political events. As Figure 2.3 indicates, the number of passengers leaving or arriving Spokane rose rapidly from 1.9 million in 1992 to 3.3 million in 1996, stagnated around 3.0 million to 2000, declined to 2.8 million during the next three years, reflecting the general air travel malaise produced by the 9/11 attacks, and then increased to 3.1 million passengers in 2004. The growth of air cargo was even sharper as Figure 2.4 shows, doubling from 33,100 tons in 1992 to 67,300 tons in 2000 but then sharply declining to 53,300 tons by 2002 before rising to 57,300 tons in 2004.

Since 2004, passenger and cargo grew for a bit but then plummeted in the depression to levels below 1996.  Both 2009 and 2010 passenger levels remained below 1996 but are likely to surpass that in 2011. As noted at the link, the airport has been funding capital infrastructure improvements based on a year 2000 Master Plan that forecast rapidly expansion in both passenger and cargo traffic. The forecast was completely wrong and no such growth occurred – but the airport has continued to spend money based on the forecast in the year 2000 Master Plan. In 2011, they are revisiting that original plan and will issue new forecasts. (And as previously noted, the drops in passenger and cargo were not due to the airport management but due to changes in the local and national economy, the airline business and other factors. However, airport management was slow to respond, taking until 2011 to revise their forecast.)

Chart from EWU study:

Source: EWU report, page 17.

Since the forecast of greatly expanding growth:

How much money has been spent on infrastructure improvements from 2002 to 2010?

Data table – amounts in Millions of $s

2002 $18.50
2003 $14.80
2004 $18.10
2005 $30.00
2006 $24.10
2007 $18.00
2008 $30.40
2009 $30.74
2010 $0.60
2010 $6.00
$191.24

Source of data: The EWU study and contract announcements for 2009 and 2010 on the SIA web site.

More than $191 million dollars has been spent at SIA on capital improvement projects since 2002.

It is as if the managers at the airport and local politicians do their work by ignoring all available data. Bewildering.

The airport generates much local economic activity but it is primarily the result of pouring in tax money to do work that is questionable, considering no overall increase in passengers or cargo. The tax money comes from both general income taxes and government spending, and the $4.50 per passenger ticket tax used to fund airport improvements.

When EWU calculates the economic impact of the airport, they measure not only the incoming tax money, but also spending by visitors and then a multiplier effect that assumes that business that receive the first spending, in turn, spend the money again, locally. They call this “induced” impacts.

Combining all of this, they come up with a figure that SIA yields about $900 million a year in economic impacts and 12,243 additional jobs in Spokane County.

In 2008, Spokane’s GDP was about $17.5 Billion. Therefore, the Airport’s estimated $900M impact is responsible all by itself for over 5% of Spokane’s GDP. Probably not…

A problem with this type of analysis is that it leads to claims like health care represents one-third of the local GDP, a claim that is not true. Or funky calculations of the return on investing in colleges and universities (which I strongly support) – see after the “Read more” at the end of this article.

Another issue is – were there potentially better investments than spending on the SIA? What if a portion of that money could have been used instead to build a medical school or comprehensive research university presence in Spokane? We will never know.  SIA spending has unfortunately become a short term jobs program for the politically connected construction firms and is not leading to the long term return on investment that this region needs.

Update: “San Jose’s airport has since lost a quarter of its passengers and a third of its scheduled flights.” That airport competes with near by San Francisco International and Oakland Airports, both of which are drawing more passengers. For reasons unknown, a flight to San Jose from Spokane (via hops) is much more expensive than flying to nearby Oakland.

Read more of this post

Government poised to pour more money into Spokane International Airport

The government has already poured hundreds of millions into Spokane International Airport. The result of that can be seen in the charts below.

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — Senator Maria Cantwell and Mayor Mary Verner came together Sunday to address the local implications of the U.S. Senate passing the FAA Reauthorization Bill. Both say the bill could bring millions to Spokane International Airport for technology and infrastructure improvements.

via FAA Bill Would Bring Millions To GEG – News Story – KXLY Spokane.

The following charts show the result of continued spending on SIA, where passenger counts and cargo have been flat for 15 years. In both 2009 and 2010, there were fewer passenger boardings than in 1996.

Source for the following charts: here, here and here.

This is wasteful “feel good” spending to temporarily create a few jobs and boost some politically connected businesses. This diverts funds from programs that could make a long term – as compared to a short term jobs program – difference. Read more of this post

Another relationship between Spokane’s economy and the airport

This picture was taken from the Spokane Intern...

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I have written a lot about the Spokane International Airport passenger data, number of airlines and the number of non-stop destinations.

The airport data represents a proxy that tells us something about the local economy. When the economy is booming, more people fly. When the economy is falling, fewer people fly. This is not complicated rocket science 🙂  The data tell us more about the local economy than it tells us about the airport. It’s a very nice airport.

I just scheduled a round trip flight to a conference I will attend later this spring. I was startled by the 30% “tax rate” of government taxes and fees. Yes, a staggering 30% set of taxes and fees on air travel.

Part of this is because the government imposes a $3.70 fee on each leg of the trip. To get to my destination from Spokane, I have to hop once, twice and then a third time to reach my destination at a major city (on the west coast). For each hop, there is a $3.70 fee.

Then we get to do this on the return flight. Those fees for having to make a multi-hop flight to get my destination and back add up!

Additionally, even though I do not need to be at my destination until early afternoon, I had to fly out the evening before, meaning an extra night for the trip (and associated costs), because I could not get there from here by leaving in the morning.

This is an added burden for any Spokane business that needs to travel to other than the non-stop destinations or at a time different than the few non-stops available. For businesses needing to travel a lot, this suggests locating in a major, large city served by more air services. This problem affects all smaller towns and cities in terms of serving a national or world market.

How many cities are served by Spokane Airport?

A Horizon Air Fairchild FH-27 at Spokane Inter...

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Spokane International Airport Route Map. Click the link to see where you can fly non-stop from Spokane. The Spokane International Airport (SIA) lists 13 direct flight cities as non-stop destination routes from Spokane.

I used Expedia.com and the Southwest.com web sites, directly, to check for flights between Spokane and the cities listed for a hypothetical flight in January 2011. (Southwest does not list flights on Expedia.) I only checked one day in January – it is possible that different days could have a different number of flights available.

Here is what I found in terms of directly served (non-stop) cities:

  • Chicago – zero flights per day; discontinued United service
  • Chicago – one daily flight in Nov 2010. This flight no longer exists on several dates checked in January 2011. UPDATE: As of Nov 2011, no Chicago flights are scheduled in 2012. Chicago flights are now gone.
  • Sacramento has 1 flight per day
  • San Jose, Ca has 1 flight per day
  • Minneapolis  has 2 flights per day
  • San Francisco has 2 flights per day
  • Oakland has 2 flights per day
  • Phoenix has 2 flights per day
  • Las Vegas has 2 flights per day
  • Boise has 3 flights per day
  • Salt Lake City has 3 flights per day
  • Denver has 9 flights per day
  • Portland has 12 flights per day
  • Seattle has 21 flights per day

Perhaps I have miscounted or perhaps some flights might not be listed on Expedia’s or Southwest’s web sites. So I may be off a little. Please post corrections in the comments. And again, the exact set of flights and their count may vary from day to day.

It appears that Spokane International Airport

  • serves 12 13 non-stop cities today; 12 in January 2011
  • this is down from 15 non-stop cities in 2005 and 16 in 2004.
  • this is 60 daily flights down from 70 daily flights in 2005
  • has no scheduled international flights, in spite of its name
  • has fewer passengers today than in 1996.

From a local economy standpoint, the airport’s passenger count is a rough measure of the local economy.  SIA said in 2005 that the airport’s passenger count reflects the local economy, which suggests Spokane’s economy has experienced considerable weakening.  The total number of aircraft operations (independent of passenger counts) would also go down as smaller aircraft, flying frequently, are replaced with larger aircraft flying the route less often (this has happened).

Beginning in April 2011, Southwest will eliminate their daily flight to Salt Lake City and reduce one flight each to Boise and Seattle. They will add one non-stop between Phoenix and Spokane for a net loss of 2 daily flights.

After the break this article continues with a list of cities that used to be flown non-stop out of Spokane.

Read more of this post

Spokane Airport’s Shrinking Passenger Count

Spokane Airport (GEG)

Image by chrisny2 via Flickr

Spokane Airport official in 2005:

“These numbers are a strong indicator that Spokane‘s economy is growing at a robust rate, faster than the nation as a whole,” he says. “As a region, that’s a point of pride.”

via SIA expects to soar to record | Journal of Business | Find Articles at BNET.

Today, there are fewer passengers in 2009-2010 than in 1996:

Source. The chart above truncates the SIA data at 1996, rather than 1990, because that is as far back as the Boise data went and the purpose of the chart was to compare the two airports.

In 2005, rising passenger counts were a sign of a strong economy. Falling passenger counts are a sign of ….______________________.

According to an article in the Phoenix Business Journal, Southwest will be “cutting several routes” from Spokane in the spring of 2011. Update: Cutting Salt Lake City and cutting one flight each from Seattle and Boise.

Spokane International Airport

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Spokane International Airport does not actually have international flight arrivals or departures. But they do have facilities for processing passengers through customs, when that time comes.

More data on the airport is available here.

Spokane Airport Passenger and Cargo Handled Since 1990

The following chart was created from passenger data available at the Spokane International Airport web site, and then overlaid with US Census population data. For the population data, data points for 1990, 2000-2009 were used. The curve between 1990 and 2000 is just a straight line interpolation.

Data sources: http://www.spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/historic.pdf through 2007. More recent periods via files found at: http://www.spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/

Worrisome,  is that the current annual number of passengers handled by Spokane International Airport (SIA) is less than that handled in 1996. In other words, there has been no real growth in passenger air traffic through Spokane in about 15 years.

Airport passenger data can be used as a rough proxy for the local economy, especially for an isolated airport like Spokane. The primary major alternatives are Seattle (290 miles away) and Boise in southern Idaho.  While national economic issues have decreased air travel, Seattle has fallen to 2007 levels and yet Boise is about 50% more than it handled in 1995.

In the year 2000, the SIA produced a 20-year Master Plan for growth in passenger air traffic – a forecast that deviated from the real world the first year it was made. The airport is currently handling only 2/3ds of the passengers it forecast it would handled in 2010.

Seattle Passenger Traffic (Source: SeaTac Airport Statistics)

Boise Passenger Traffic

(Chart has not yet been produced. They only provide monthly data, not annual data, so it will take some to process that.)

Spokane Cargo

Data is from the SIA web site and the SIA 20 year Master Plan, produced in 2000. The blue line is the actual cargo being handled. The red line is the forecast made in the year 2000. The forecast was wrong in the first year and today is only 1/3d of the original forecast. Yet, according to the now ten  year old Master Plan they are still working off of (they plan to start revising it late this year – 2010), they were building infrastructure to support the forecast levels that never happened.

The forecast portion of the above SIA charts is taken from the 20 year Master Plan which shows this graphic for the forecast growth in SIA air traffic (click on graphic for full size):

Summary

Current passenger and cargo loads handled through the Spokane International Airport are about 1995 levels. These data are useful proxies for assessing local economic activity and they suggest that over the past 15 years the economic vitality of the Spokane might be relatively flat. They also suggest that current SIA infrastructure programs based on the inaccurate forecast might be making unnecessary expenditures. For example, the year 2000 plan called for a build out of cargo handling facilities that could park almost 30 mid-size to larger airliners plus six small planes for freight hauling.

As of July 2010, shock went through the area when the newly opened Cascade Aerospace, which was to employ 600 people, sold its facility. The new owner would employ just 50 people instead. Additionally, the airport is presently being sued for $14 million and has lost at the Court of Appeals. The airport is doing major runway improvements and re-paving, yet handles the same number of passengers as it did in 1995.

SIA spent $20 million on capital improvements in 2004, then $23 million on a new air traffic control tower and another $16.9 million on facility improvements in 2005. In 2010, SIA completed a $30 million lengthening of a runway and in 2011, will spend an additional $30 million to remove a dip in an existing runway.  That $100 million is just a partial list of improvements – which seems odd considering the large decline in both cargo and passenger traffic. Yet, generally, infrastructure improvements can lead to long term economic returns – the only question is whether the current improvements are “right sized” to the actual needs of Spokane.