As our area continues to grow, more and more eyes are on the Rocket City. This week, Huntsville has the attention of more than 300 airport leaders from the Southeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. These men and women will be discussing and addressing the challenges airports are facing today, and what they expect to see in the coming years.

Bill Swelbar is one of the keynote speakers for the SEC-AAAE Conference. He is a Research Engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Center for Air Transportation and has been a consultant for many airlines and airports in the last 35 years. His passion is for small community airports, like Huntsville International Airport and improving air service in these communities.

In Huntsville, the Toyota-Mazda announcement will mean that new and different vendors will need to access the city.”

Swelbar will be discussing the trends and expectations for commercial aviation in the coming years. Some of those challenges are the consolidation of the industry, cost of jet fuel, and the shortage of pilots.

Huntsville International Airport isn’t immune to those challenges, and even faces a few that are unique to this area because of the strong business community. It’s no secret one of HSV’s biggest challenges are high airfares set by the airlines.

“Huntsville has an incredibly strong business community, as is reflected in higher than average fares. There is a high propensity to travel for the businesses located in Huntsville, and as such, there is a higher ability to pay than in many other markets,” says Swelbar.

The only way to see lower airfares is to demand low-cost carriers to come to you.”

And the business community is only continuing to grow, but Swelbar believes it’s all positive. “In Huntsville, the Toyota-Mazda announcement will mean that new and different vendors will need to access the city,” he said. “Huntsville is growing, which makes this a place to pay attention to.”

And while they’re watching, they’ll also be looking for community buy-in. When Southwest merged with AirTran, that service ended in our community. Passengers do take to the roads and use Birmingham and Nashville airports, creating leakage for Huntsville. Retaining this traffic with only network carrier service will prove to be difficult.

“What Huntsville has to do as a community is support the new Silver service to Orlando,” says Swelbar. ‘Use it or lose it’ is a phrase Swelbar has often used, and it applies directly to our market.

The only way to see lower airfares is to demand low-cost carriers to come to you. Huntsvillians can do that by using the services that are already at HSV, thus creating leverage to attract more air service. Driving to neighboring communities in hopes of lower fares shows airlines they don’t need to make the investment in our community to get your money.

What’s next?

What drives airline decisions on where to land next? And is the pilot shortage going to affect Huntsville’s business market? Swelbar shares more of his thoughts on Huntsville’s air service with the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce:
Boosting Huntsville’s Air Service: Q & A with Bill Swelbar, Airline Industry Strategist