Air Transportation in Virginia

nearly 80% of Virginians live within a 45-minute drive of an airport offering scheduled passenger service
nearly 80% of Virginians live within a 45-minute drive of an airport offering scheduled passenger service
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016) (Figure 4-2)

Virginia has public, private, and military airports. Nine public airports in Virginia offer scheduled commercial passenger service:

Three Virginia airports no longer offer scheduled passenger service: New River Valley Airport (PSK), Hot Springs/Ingalls Field (HSP), and Danville Regional Airport (DAN). In addition, Piedmont Airlines sought approval from the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1962 to offer scheduled passenger service to Shannon Airport (KEZF) at Fredericksburg, but that proposal was rejected. Hot Springs was the last Virginia airport to get scheduled passenger service, in 1964.

in 2010, there were over 1,000 takeoffs every day of a commercial airliner carrying passengers from nine Virginia airports - and 75% were from two airports in Northern Virginia
in 2010, there were over 1,000 takeoffs every day of a commercial airliner carrying passengers from nine Virginia airports - and 75% were from two airports in Northern Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Competitive Analysis of Virginia's Aviation Industry (from Table 2.1)

in 2013, over 80% of passengers using a Virginia airport got on board in Northern Virginia at Reagan National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD)
in 2013, over 80% of passengers using a Virginia airport got on board in Northern Virginia at Reagan National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

Only two of Virginia's airports now offering scheduled passenger service - Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) and Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) - are west of the Blue Ridge.

Five of the nine airports - Dulles International Airport (IAD), Reagan National Airport (DCA), Richmond International Airport (RIC), Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), and Norfolk International Airport (ORF) - are in Virginia's crescent-shaped population center, stretching from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads.

only two airports in Virginia offering scheduled commercial passenger service, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), are located west of the Blue Ridge
only two airports in Virginia offering scheduled commercial passenger service, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), are located west of the Blue Ridge
Source: National Atlas

Starting in the 1950's, Piedmont Airlines developed into the dominant local carrier in Virginia. At one time or another, it flew into every Virginia airport with scheduled commercial flights. The last addition to its schedule in Virginia was in 1966, when the Civil Aeronautics Board granted Piedmont Airlines authority to fly from Dulles International Airport (IAD).

Piedmont Airlines was incorporated into US Airways in 1989, which then merged with American Airlines in 2015. In 2016 American Airlines flew into eight of the nine Virginia airports with scheduled commercial flights. Piedmont Airlines had pulled out of Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) in 1981, and it ended up as the only Virginia airport not serviced by American Airlines after the merger with US Airways.1

many travelers caught a Piedmont Airlines flight at a Virginia airport before the company was acquired by US Airways in 1989
many travelers caught a Piedmont Airlines flight at a Virginia airport before the company was acquired by US Airways in 1989
Source: DepartedFlights.com, We're Brightening Our Look To Go With Our Outlook (1974)

Piedmont Airlines offered point-to-point flights, traveling short distances. As the hub-and-spoke pattern evolved, the airline advertised:2

Piedmont's Law: The shortest distance between two points is not through a big, busy connecting airport.

in 1966, Piedmont Airlines flew into every Virginia airport with scheduled passenger service
in 1966, Piedmont Airlines flew into every Virginia airport with scheduled passenger service
Source: North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, The Piedmonter (September, 1965)

Airports that offer scheduled commercial passenger service are clearly beneficial to economic development in a community. Such facilities draw customers from an area, a "hinterland," in the same way that port cities such as Alexandria established economic connections in the 1800's with rural areas that needed access to a seaport.

Virginia airports draw customers from other states, and Virginia residents can choose to drive to airports in other states. All nine of Virginia's airports offering scheduled passenger service are not-for-profit, publicly-owned facilities, but they operate like businesses and compete with each other.

The hinterland includes the primary catchment area from which most passengers come. Competition is more intense in the secondary catchment area, further from the airport terminal and closer to other airports.

The boundaries of catchment areas will vary for an airport, based upon the cost of different flights and the destinations. The catchment area for low-cost, short-distance flights extends far from the airport, to the point where the customers are located roughly halfway between two airports offering similar service. Customers are likely to choose "nearest airport" and be less willing to drive extra distances to a competing airport, when the potential savings in time/money are small.3

The catchment area for more-expensive flights is concentrated closer to the airport. If the inconvenience of driving the extra distance is offset by the savings in time or money, an airport can extend its catchment area.

For example, Northern Virginia residents who live close to Dulles (IAD) or Reagan National (DCA), but can save significant amounts of time/money by catching a Southwest flight from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), may choose to drive the extra distance. Maryland residents may drive past BWI to catch an international flight from Dulles (IAD) that is more-direct and does not require a layover in an intermediate airport.

in the secondary catchment area, customers can choose to use a North Carolina airport unless service from Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH) is more convenient or less expensive
in the secondary catchment area, customers can choose to use a North Carolina airport unless service from Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH) is more convenient or less expensive
Source: Lynchburg Regional Airport Master Plan Update (2010)

The number of passengers boarding an airplane (enplanements) or getting off (deplanements) at an airport reflects the population of the area, competition from nearby airports, and of course the desire of residents in that region to fly somewhere else. A large population base generates more traffic, so airports in urban areas attract more carriers. Competition results in flights scheduled more frequently and to more locations, and also lower costs.

except for Staunton and Newport News-Williamsburg, average fares for flights from Virginia airports dropped more than national average between 1995-2015 (adjusted for constant 2015 dollars)
except for Staunton and Newport News-Williamsburg, average fares for flights from Virginia airports dropped more than national average between 1995-2015 (adjusted for constant 2015 dollars)
Source: US Department of Transportation – Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Average Domestic Airline Itinerary Fares By Origin City

With the hub-and-spoke scheduling pattern of airlines, fights from smaller airports feed passengers into larger airports that offer non-stop flights to more destinations. Richmond and Charlottesville residents can not catch a direct flight to the West Coast, or to Europe, from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) or Richmond International Airport (RIC).

About 60% of scheduled departures from Virginia's airports are operated by regional jet equipment. Airlines pay lower wages to pilots flying smaller planes, such as those produced by Bombardier and Embraer, rather than larger aircraft with more than 50 seats. Many of those small jets connected to a hub outside Virginia, rather than feed passengers starting at a Virginia airport into the two major hubs in Northern Virginia:4

Within Virginia, two Large Hub airports, Washington Dulles and Reagan National, both offer connecting itineraries. However, most connecting itineraries to or from Virginia’s Small Hub and Non-Hub airports do not pass through Washington Dulles or Reagan National.

For domestic connecting journeys from Virginia's Small Hub and Non-Hub airports, just 7.3 percent of passengers connected through Washington Dulles or Reagan National in 2005. By 2014, this number had increased slightly to 7.6 percent. Instead, Atlanta and Charlotte are the two most popular connecting hubs for domestic passengers; together, these hubs control over 56 percent of the domestic connecting traffic from Virginia’s seven Small Hub and Non-Hub airports.

Areas with smaller populations generate fewer customers, and thus lower profits. An airline typically will charge higher fares at smaller airports, so the limited number of passengers will cover the fixed costs to provide service and will generate a rate of return on the airline's investment comparable to flying to airports with many customers.

In response to high fares and a limited selection of destinations at small airports, travelers will drive several hours to reach a different airport with greater competition and better service. Airports near the border of Virginia in Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina compete with the nine Virginia airports that offer scheduled commercial passenger service.

Service from Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) is limited, and the drive to airports in Richmond and Northern Virginia can take less time than the flight plus delays in making connections. In 2009, the airport reported that over 90% of its local market was choosing to use other airports in the region rather than catch the connecting flights offered at the time by United Express to Dulles International Airport.5

travelers in the Shenandoah Valley take interstate highways to fly out of Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Richmond International Airport (RIC)
travelers in the Shenandoah Valley take interstate highways to fly out of Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Richmond International Airport (RIC)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) pull passengers from the Richmond and Charlottesville area as well as the Shenandoah Valley. The headaches of parking and passing through airport security is such a deterrent that some customers from Central Virginia drive directly to Northern Virginia airports, eliminating the "hop" from the smaller airport. That may require more time in traffic on Route 29 or I-95, but can eliminate the potential of a missed connection as well as reduce overall time and costs for a long trip.

Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) draws Northern Virginians across the Potomac River, in part due to the many low-cost flights scheduled by Southwest Airlines. The airport provides driving directions for customers coming from as far south as Richmond, making clear that Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) views Central Virginia as part of its catchment area.

Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) provides driving directions for passengers who might come from Richmond, though the traffic on I-95 might deter customers
Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) provides driving directions for passengers who might come from Richmond, though the traffic on I-95 might deter customers
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Google Maps

For many living in Southside Virginia, North Carolina airports in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte offered the most-convenient and lowest-cost commercial airline service to a wide range of destinations.

Potential airline passengers drive to out-of-state airports from the local "capture area" surrounding Virginia's nine airports with scheduled commercial service. Until Virginia's airports can offer cheaper flights and better schedules, "leakage" will continue to airports in Baltimore (MD), Lewisburg (WV), Blountville (TN), Charlotte (NC), Greensboro (NC), and Raleigh (NC).

cheaper flights and better schedules generate leakage to airports in Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee
cheaper flights and better schedules generate "leakage" to airports in Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The best option for some Southwestern Virginia residents is the Tri-Cities Airport (TRI). It is located in Blountville, Tennessee, near the "tri-cities" of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City.

Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee serves Southwestern Virginia
Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee (which dropped "Regional" from its name in 2016) serves Southwestern Virginia
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee adopted a new logo in 2016 In 2016, Allegiant, American, and Delta Connection offered scheduled service from the Tennessee airport to Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Bristol, Virginia has one voting member on the 12-person board that manages the airport; the other members represent jurisdictions in Tennessee.

The airport dropped "Regional" from its name in 2016, part of a branding exercise to emphasize the "TRI" instead. Bristol sits on the border but is one of the three urbanized area in the Tri-Cities region, so its role was not diminished by the re-branding.6

pilots traveling to Southwestern Virginia rely upon General Aviation airports west of Roanoke
pilots traveling to Southwestern Virginia rely upon General Aviation airports west of Roanoke
VFR MAP

Most commercial passenger "enplanements" (passengers getting on board a plane to start a flight) occur at the two airports in Northern Virginia. Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) generated over 20 million boardings in 2015. Virginia's other seven with scheduled passenger service generated only 4 million boardings, combined.7

in 2015, 84% of commercial passengers using Virginia airports boarded (enplaned) at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Northern Virginia
in 2015, 84% of commercial passengers using Virginia airports boarded (enplaned) at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Northern Virginia
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

The seven smallest airports in Virginia with scheduled passenger service used smaller airplanes than the two largest airports. As a result, they had 23% of the aircraft landings/take-offs even though those seven airports carried only 16% of the passengers in 2015.8

77% of scheduled passenger plane landings/take-offs in Virginia occur at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
77% of scheduled passenger plane landings/take-offs in Virginia occur at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Source: Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Executive Summary (p.4)

The number of travelers using Virginia airports declined between 2007-2013, as the airlines focused on servicing major hubs and reduced flights from smaller airports. Airlines exercised "capacity discipline" after the 2008 economic recession and limited expansion during the recovery, and squeezed more passengers into each flight. Scheduled domestic flights leaving from a Virginia airport dropped 12% during those years, and overall passenger traffic dropped by 5%.

Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport lost almost half of its traffic in 2012, when low-cost airline Air-Tran cancelled service and chose to fly instead out of Richmond and Norfolk.

Airlines have been quick to cancel flights that did not generate sufficient profit at a Virginia airport. Officials at Norfolk International Airport (ORF) convinced Southwest to offer three Norfolk-Atlanta flights, but they were dropped from the schedule in 2014 as the airline consolidated with AirTran and focused on using Boeing 737s.9

between 2007-13 - a time of major economic recession - passengers using Virginia airports declined by 5%
between 2007-13 - a time of major economic recession - passengers using Virginia airports declined by 5%
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

The decline in air travel after the 2008 recession may have stabilized nationally, but in 2017 four of the airports in Virginia were still at risk of losing some existing service.

in 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration predicted future air travel would be steady despite past fluctuations due to changes in oil prices, international conflict, and economic recession/recovery
in 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration predicted future air travel would be steady despite past fluctuations due to changes in oil prices, international conflict, and economic recession/recovery
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Aerospace Forecast (2016–2036)) (p.47)

The Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH) would be affected if airlines adopted different jets designed for longer flight distances. Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport has been threatened by reduced income ever since Air-Tran left in 2012. Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) has been able to maintain limited scheduled passenger service only through the Essential Air Service subsidy, a Federal program which Congress could alter at any time.

two of the six Virginia airports for which Essential Air Service determinations have been made (Hot Springs and Danville) no longer have scheduled passenger service, but Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) retains one carrier through the Federal subsidy
two of the six Virginia airports for which Essential Air Service determinations have been made (Hot Springs and Danville) no longer have scheduled passenger service, but Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) retains one carrier through the Federal subsidy
Source: US Department of Transportation, Essential Air Service Determinations

Reduced competition due to consolidation of airlines, creation of the hub-and-spoke system, and introduction of new jets has caused carriers to drop service to small markets. Three Virginia airports have lost scheduled passenger service - Pulaski in 1972, Hot Springs in 1993, and Danville in 1995.

Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) requires a Federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program to retain scheduled commercial service
Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) requires a Federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program to retain scheduled commercial service
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO)

Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH)

Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF)

Norfolk International Airport (ORF)

Northern Virginia Airports: Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Richmond International Airport (RIC)

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA)

Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD)

Airport Competition: Richmond vs. Newport News/Williamsburg vs. Norfolk

Virginia Airports Where Scheduled Passenger Service Has Been Cancelled

Airport Codes in Virginia

Airport Classification and Planning in Virginia

Developing Dulles Through Improved Road and Rail Access

General Aviation in Virginia

Military Aviation in Virginia

17 airports in Virginia had a runway length of 5,500 feet or greater in 2016
17 airports in Virginia had a runway length of 5,500 feet or greater in 2016
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Current Access to Airports with a Runway Length of 5,500 feet or Greater (Figure 4-4)

Links

38 airports in Virginia had a precision approach supported by vertical guidance in 2016, making them attractive sites for executives flying in business-class airplanes
38 airports in Virginia had a precision approach supported by vertical guidance in 2016, making them attractive sites for executives flying in business-class airplanes
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Current Access to Airports with Precision Approach and LPV Guidance (Figure 4-4)

References

1. "Chronology of Inaugural Service," Piedmont Airlines, http://www.jetpiedmont.com/inaugural/ (last checked December 31, 2016)
2. "CAB Announces Decision on Piedmont Area Case," Piedmonitor, Piedmont Aviation, February-March 1962, p.1, http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/2014236866/1962-02-01/ed-1/seq-1/; "A Well-Run Airline Not Only Makes Profits. It Makes Friends," DepartedAirlines.com, http://www.departedflights.com/PImakefriends82.html">http://www.departedflights.com/PImakefriends82.html (last checked December 30, 2016)
3. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, "Transport Terminals and Hinterlands," The Geography of Transport Systems, https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch4en/conc4en/ch4c2en.html; "Measuring the Size of an Airport's Catchment Area," Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 25 (November 2012), pp.27–34, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966692312001706 (last checked December 21, 2016)
4. "Virginia Commercial Air Service Strategic Review," Virginia Department of Aviation, December 2015, pp.4-5, http://doav.virginia.gov/Downloads/Studies/Strategic%20Review%202015/DOAV%20Strategic%20Review%20Final%20December%202015%20Reduced3.pdf (last checked December 25, 2016)
5. "Small Community Air Service Development Grant," Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, August 2009, http://dailyairlinefilings.com/ostpdf75/412.pdf (last checked December 28, 2016)
6. "Airport Authority," Tri-Cities Airport, http://www.triflight.com/about-tri/airport-commission/; "Airline Info," Tri-Cities Airport, http://www.triflight.com/airlines/ (last checked June 20, 2016)
7. "Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports," Federal Aviation Administration, http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/ (last checked December 21, 2016)
8. "Executive Summary," Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update, 2016, p.4, http://www.doav.virginia.gov/Downloads/Studies/VATSP%20Update%202016/600%20DOAVAW%2020160406%20VATSP%20Update%20-%20Executive%20Summary_Web_acsbl.pdf (last checked December 21, 2016)
9. "Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports," Federal Aviation Administration, http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/; Michael D. Wittman, "Commercial Air Service at Virginia’s Airports: Challenges and Opportunities," Virginia News Letter, Volume 90 No. 5 (July 2014), p.2, p.5, http://www.coopercenter.org/publications/VANsltr0714; "Norfolk airport weighs sweeteners to lure more flights," The Virginian-Pilot, August 22, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/norfolk-airport-weighs-sweeteners-lure-more-flights (last checked August 22, 2014)

advertising has not been sufficient to grow passenger traffic and eliminate the need for an Essential Aircraft Service subsidy to maintain scheduled passenger service at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD)
advertising has not been sufficient to grow passenger traffic and eliminate the need for an Essential Aircraft Service subsidy to maintain scheduled passenger service at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD)
Source: Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, Advertising/Marketing In Support of Colgan Air Essential Air Service to/from Washington Dulles International Airport (Table 27)


Transportation: From Feet to Teleports
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