By Randy Pierce
Characterized as the top low-cost airport choice for the region, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport’s impact and growth realized in recent years appears to be continuing in a positive direction, according to comments shared recently by a consultant who spoke to the members of the group which oversees its operations, the St. Clair County Public Building Commission.
As part of a presentation at a meeting of the PBC by Jack Penning, representing a firm called Volaire Aviation Consulting, which is based in Portland, Oregon and has a contractual agreement with MAA, he commented, “I think it’s important to understand our position and my position for what this airport can become. It’s a lot bigger than what a lot of people think.”
Qualifying the analytical comments in his report with the potential that the status of the coronavirus pandemic, if it would worsen, could possibly taint what is anticipated, Penning said MAA is one of only about 10 of the 360 airports in the United States which had a record year concerning its usage in 2021, adding, “That’s pretty remarkable.”
“The thing that really impresses me,” he continued, “is our share of passengers in the St. Louis market. We’ve had about one per cent of passengers for a very long time going back to 2012.”
“We boosted that up to about two to three per cent of passengers in ‘18, ’19. Look at this year: almost five per cent of the St. Louis market uses our airport. Now, our population share is that over 30 per cent of the metro population live in Illinois so we’re still just scratching the surface.”
A graphic shared by Penning to underscore this point indicated that the St. Clair County airport’s share of passengers in this region was actually only two-tenths of a per cent in 2013 then climbed steadily since then to its projected total of near five per cent.
“We’ve done a great job,” Penning went on, “really establishing ourselves as the low-cost airport for St. Louis. This is a huge change and one we look to build on as we come out of the pandemic.”
A major factor in these circumstances, according to Penning, concerns the fact that MAA has the lowest overall average air fare in the entire Midwest, now set at $52 one-way, a plus compared to the same figure for St. Louis Lambert International Airport which is $146.
These numbers are favorable for MAA from the same standpoint when compared to all of the 24 airports in the Midwest states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana which, as shown on a chart shared by Penning, indicate highs of $229 for a one-way flight from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and $205 at Champaign-Urbana to the second lowest of $68 at Rockford, the only other one not in the three-figure range.
Despite this difference, the passenger carrier at MidAmerica, Penning explained, Allegiant, still makes a profit, from increasing numbers of passengers passing through with about 80 per cent of its seats currently being filled, down from close to 90 per cent when there were fewer flights a handful of years ago, but still over the national airport average of around 70 per cent.
Lambert, however, was down by 30 per cent during 2021, Penning said, but still has a high flow of passengers through it at about 9000 a day and, with MAA carrying several hundred daily, there is room for more growth at the St. Clair County airport.
Penning further shared a detailed scenario related to the passenger flow at the two airports which led to his conclusion that Allegiant would have made a profit last year even without the type of federal government support provided to all of the airlines, making it one of two, the other being Delta, to prosper to that extent.
“That shows you how resilient they are, how good their business model is, how strong they are in the market, how strong they are in the core of Florida, Vegas and Phoenix (three destinations served by MAA),” Penning added, a factor which bodes well for the local economy.
Offering up still more favorable projected information for MidAmerica, Pennington explained how similar smaller airports in Illinois locations like Springfield, Champaign, Bloomington and Peoria are experiencing various challenges affecting their usage, viability and prosperity, most evident in reduced numbers of flights.
“As that service continues to decline,” Penning speculated, “that gives us (at MAA) a big opportunity to pull from an even larger area, Decatur and Springfield, in particular.”
“Those passengers are going to look for other places to fly and that’s where we have the right price, the right kind of service, to get those passengers to drive down.”