FLY MHT: As airport industry evolves, Manchester airport focused on growth

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Southwest Airlines has been serving MHT customers since 1998. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – The following is excerpted from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport’s latest newsletter:

Air service development is the process by which airports engage airlines in an attempt to add or improve air service to their community/region. It is often a long and arduous process that involves efforts to match the community’s interests with the business strategy of individual airlines. When demographic, economic and business strategies align, an opportunity exists for new and/or improved air service.

Case in point: When Southwest Airlines entered the Manchester market in June of 1998, their analysis concluded that the Greater Manchester/Boston-North market provided the right economic and demographic mix while directly aligning with their corporate business strategy i.e., to access costly and congested large hub markets through secondary airports. This strategy served Southwest well for a number of years but has changed as the airline industry has evolved. Competition in secondary markets, combined with efforts to consolidate operations at large hubs, lead to another major shift in the industry and a renewed interest in large hub markets.

Throughout the last decade, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT), like many other small hub airports across the US, has faced a number of air service challenges. On a macro level, MHT has been impacted by industry consolidation, capacity discipline, volatile fuel costs, fleet evolution and the pilot shortage. At the local level, MHT has been impacted by increased competition from low cost carriers (LCC’s) and ultra low cost carriers (ULCC’s) in the region, Southwest Airlines entrance into the Boston market, jetBlue’s significant growth in Boston and new and evolving airline business models.

Despite the myriad of challenges and uncertainty of the last decade, our market remains resilient and air service to and from our region is strong. MHT is currently served by the top four carriers in the country (Southwest, American, Delta and United), which combined provide more than 80 percent of all available domestic seats. A much broader perspective of the market shows that passenger activity has increased at a compound rate of 2.5 percent per year for the past 20 years – a fairly impressive statistic for a City with a population of 110,000 within a State of just 1.3 million.

The market has weathered some of the most dramatic economic and industry changes we have ever experienced, however, passenger activity has stabilized at approximately two million passengers per year and we are well positioned for future growth. That said, what can we (as a community and region), do to attract more seats and service to Manchester? First, we must demonstrate through support of our local carriers that there is sufficient demand to warrant additional service. Secondly, we must all be effective ambassadors and advocates for our great City, State and Airport – no matter what the challenge.

Lastly, we must work together to make New Hampshire and the Greater Manchester Region a destination. A destination for new and expanded business ventures. A destination for leisure travelers including friends and family. A destination that is better connected to the global marketplace. And a destination that warrants additional investment by the airlines.