"Silent spring" already setting in

I have to admit when Byron King made his "silent spring" prediction last month — a severe curtailment in air travel as early as next spring because of fuel prices, including an estimate that 70% of U.S. airports are at risk of losing commercial passenger service — I was a bit skeptical.  This morning, it appears the process is well underway.

Of course there's the news that United Airlines planning to retire 20% of its mainline fleet by the end of next year (up from its original plan of 7%), and slashing routes accordingly.  The details are still to be worked out but already it's been decided that Los Angeles to Hong Kong is history.

But on top of that, USA Today has pored over all the major carriers' schedules for this coming October, compared them to last October, and found the following:

  • Significantly fewer flights to the major vacation/convention destinations — Orlando, Vegas, Honolulu.  The tickets have been too cheap for too long to even begin to cover costs
  • Fewer flights to big-city airports like Oakland and Chicago-Midway that exist in the shadow of hubs like SFO and O'Hare (and were huge growth stories just a few years ago)
  • At least 50 smaller airports will see service levels drop by at least one-third
  • 15 of the smallest airports are losing service completely with the shutdown of Air Midwest

The regional jets seating 50 or so passengers are especially cost-inefficient now.  That means no more direct flights from Washington-Reagan to Columbus, Ohio; Boston to Norfolk, Virginia; or Cleveland to Chicago-Midway.

Kansas City, where 16 routes were added just last year, will see a 16% year-over-year reduction in service by this fall.

All told, the Air Transport Association says 60 communities that had air service last year have lost it this year, with another 37 to come by year's end. 

Curiously, a couple of the cities mentioned in the article happen to have some of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country.  Stockton, California will lose a third of its service by this fall.  Merced, California has lost all commercial service already.  Coincidence? 

And this is with oil in the $125-135 range.  What happens at $150 or $200 (which even perma-Pollyanna Daniel Yergin allows as a possibility now)?  Silent spring, that's what.

Update:  After bringing the USA Today article to Byron's attention, he replies:

With six more months of high oil prices, you will not recognize the airline system — not just in the US but across the world.
This will play havoc with the world's tourism industry, the largest direct or indirect employer of people on the planet.
Hawaii flights down 25%?  No driving to Hawaii, eh?
And pity poor Disneyworld and Universal Studios at Orlando…  Sorry guys.  If I have to walk to get there, I ain't coming.
And what happens to "ecotourism?"  This is the ultimate in not disturbing the environment…. You've got the "eco," but no tourists.  So the locals will have to revert to cutting down the rain forest and eating the exotic animals to survive, right?
I especially like this line from the USA Today article….

Kansas City air service manager Justin Meyer says Kansas City is emblematic of changes playing out around the country. He thinks what's happening at his airport will not be the exception.

"We might be on the leading edge," he says.

Yep, the leading edge of what????
If the 2-hr flight from Boston to Norfolk is now going to become an 8-hour ordeal, with a transfer through JFK or whatever…. 
Well, we have a problem.
Should you drive instead?  Turn it into a long day of driving, each way…. if you can buy gas along the Interstate.
So a one-day business trip becomes a three-day trip, in the best of circumstances.
Or, if you don't want to drive, where is the passenger rail system to take up the slack?  Whoops.  No choo-choo.
Wow, the opportunities for disaster are legion in all of this.
As are the opportunities in companies with proprietary technology that won't rescue us from Peak Oil, but can make the transition to whatever's coming next a little easier.  Byron has his eye on a company that could one day put oil refineries out of business.
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