Dayton airport struggles as Cincinnati gains Southwest airline

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, Southwest announced it will suspend services our of Dayton after June 3. TY GREENLEES / STAFF ORIGINAL CUTLINE
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On Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, Southwest announced it will suspend services our of Dayton after June 3. TY GREENLEES / STAFF ORIGINAL CUTLINE

Southwest Airlines is stopping all flights out of Dayton International Airport, part of a growing trend of airlines abandoning small and mid-sized airports for larger, more profitable hub markets, industry analysts said.

The loss of another airline at the Dayton airport is a win for the Cincinnati area. The airline also announced on Wednesday that services are coming to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Southwest will bring eight daily flights to the Cincinnati airport, going to Baltimore and Chicago. CVG served 6.8 million passengers in 2016, an 8 percent increase over 2015. As business leaders in Cincinnati lauded the airline’s decision to add service to the city, Dayton officials tried to remain upbeat.

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“Unfortunately the trend has meant smaller to medium-size markets including Dayton have been losing routes,” said Terrence Slaybaugh, Dayton’s director of Aviation. “Although we hate to lose any airline service, especially one that the community has been very supportive of, we realize the volatility of the industry and the current trend of airlines to focus on hubs.”

The airline will continue services at the Dayton airport through June 3. Southwest operates three daily departures to and from Chicago Midway.

Passenger Daniel Scott of Englewood said he was disappointed by the announcement because of Southwest’s cheaper fares.

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“Especially for a family of four, it affects you a lot. Paying $25 a bag is a huge chunk of change out of your wallet,” Scott said.

The airline currently has three gates and 41 employees at Dayton airport, according to the company’s website. City of Dayton officials said Southwest’s announcement will not affect the number of markets with non-stop service from Dayton, since Chicago is served by American and United with eight to nine flights daily to O’Hare.

“Decisions to leave a city are never an easy decision,” said Dan Landson, spokesman for Southwest Airlines. “Our main focus right now is on our impacted employees and assisting them to find positions throughout Southwest’s network so they remain among the 53,000 that make Southwest great. We truly appreciate the support shown by the Dayton community.”

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Back in April, Southwest shifted all of its Dayton services to fly to its hub at Chicago Midway International Airport. Southwest originally started offering services to Dayton in August 2012 after the acquisition of AirTran. The airline had three daily non-stop destinations to Baltimore, Denver and Orlando, and Tampa seasonally.

When Southwest came to the Dayton area, the airline spent more than $1 million in additions to offer services. But Southwest passenger traffic and market share took at nosedive at the Dayton airport. Over the two years ending last September, the discount carrier saw monthly passenger traffic at the local airport fall 26 percent from its peak in July 2015.

Southwest Airlines flights at the Dayton airport were down more than 16 percent in November compared to the same month in 2015. The airline flew less flights from Dayton airport than American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

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Jay Ratliff, an aviation expert from the area, said he expects to see even more airliners pull out of smaller airports in favor of large markets in the coming years. When airlines start to retract services, they are increasingly looking at what markets can increase their revenue.

“It’s the smaller airports that suffer,” Ratliff said.

Larger markets can offer some initiatives that smaller hubs don’t have. According to WCPO, CVG offered new incentives to Southwest and other airlines beginning this week. The incentives include waiving landing and gate use fees, and offering other shows of monetary support.

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This isn't the first airline to pull out of the Dayton airport. In May 2013, Frontier Airlines discontinued services at the airport, and later added flights at the CVG. However, low-cost airline Allegiant Air offered services starting in April 2016, and later added additional flights in August.

As services dwindle at the Dayton airport, its average airfare prices are skyrocketing. Dayton airport has the highest average domestic airline fares in the region. The average airfare out of the Dayton airport is $412, $35 more than other regional airports, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.

Cincinnati’s average fare is $377.67. For several years, the Dayton airport had the lowest average fares in the region but starting in 2014 prices started increasing higher than other regional airports, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Nationally, Dayton came in as the 19th most expensive airport overall in 2015.

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Dayton officials said the city will continue to “enjoy strong air service” from American, Allegiant, Delta and United, and has the lowest airport operating cost in the region.

“We are certainly disappointed in Southwest’s decision,” said Chris Kershner of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “We’ve made many efforts as a community to help Southwest build a strong presence in the Dayton region. However, this decision allows us the opportunity to explore partnerships with other low cost carriers.”

One shining star for the Dayton airport in the past few years has been PSA Airlines.

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In September 2015, the Dayton airport broke ground on a $14 million expansion for PSA Airlines. The 69,000-square-foot hangar houses aircraft and engine parts. The only airline based in Ohio, PSA has doubled its fleet size and employee base at the Dayton airport since the announcement of the airline’s growth plans back in 2013.

The airline has about 900 employees in Dayton.

PSA’s parent company, American Airlines, consistently has the most passenger enplanements month by month at the Dayton airport, followed by Delta and United. Allegiant had less passengers than Southwest each month, but also offers less flights.

Staff writer Randy Tucker contributed to this report.

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