Flight Blog

Feb 10 2015 You Wanna Fly Where?! BY sgf-adminTAGS Airlines, How the Airport Works


It’s the question we’re asked all the time …

“Does the airport have non-stop flights to __________ ?!

You can fill in that blank with the destination of your choice. I keep a list.  There’s Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Flagstaff, Hartford, Centralia, Illinois; Muncie, Eau Claire, the list goes on and on…

I’ve gradually realized that some folk have what amounts to a fantastic vision of how the airline business works. I’m not being critical — it’s just what they think.

Here’s how the vision goes …

“The airlines offer (or should offer) dozens of flights every day from Springfield. These flights fly non-stop to dozens of destinations in all fifty states.”

There’s just one problem …

That’s not how the airlines work —if an airline tried it would be bankrupt in about five minutes. Here’s what they do instead …

Rather than flying from Springfield to a whole bunch of places, the airlines fly from Springfield to a few “hub” cities. This is called hub and spoke flying. Let’s explain how it works by using American Airlines as an example.

Suppose you want to fly from Springfield to Amarillo. To get you there American flies you from Springfield to Dallas. At Dallas you get on another flight that takes you to Amarillo. In this scenario Springfield and

Amarillo are the “spokes,” and Dallas is the “hub.”

Take a look at the diagram. The “hub” is Dallas. The smaller cities are the "spokes." On any given day a handful of customers in each spoke city want to fly to Amarillo. Rather than provide a flight from each of those cities to Amarillo, American flies them to Dallas where they’re gathered up (from all those spoke cities) and then flown to Amarillo on a different flight. (Note: this diagram shows only a fraction of Dallas' spoke cities.)

I hope you noticed the bold face in the phrase, handful of customers. This is a key point. On any given day there aren’t enough people who want to fly to Amarillo, in each of those spoke cities, to justify the cost of a non-stop flight. So the airline gathers them in Dallas and then sends them on to Amarillo.

I talk to people on a regular basis who think there are tons of people who fly (or want to fly) from Springfield to places like Amarillo. The truth is surprising …

In 2013 an average of 1.2 people per day flew from Springfield to Amarillo.  That many people won’t fill the smallest plane that an airline is going to use — a 50 seat regional jet. Let’s put it another way: an airline isn’t going to fly that plane between Springfield and Amarillo if, on average, 48 seats are empty.

Now wait … there’s someone out there reading this who’s thinking, “If they had a non-stop flight to Amarillo more people would fly there!”

The airlines know from experience that “provide the service and they will come” rarely works. Just because the service is there doesn’t mean that the number of people who want to fly to Amarillo, on a daily basis, is going to change enough to make the route a money maker.

Let’s talk some more about passenger numbers and where those passengers want to go — because really, when you get right down to it, this is the nitty-gritty math that the airlines deal with …

Take a look at the top ten destinations for people flying from Springfield in 2013. The numbers represent passengers using the three airlines, serving Springfield, which have daily service: American, Delta, and United:

1. Atlanta:
avg number of people each day: 40.7. Non-stop

2. Dallas:
Avg number of people each day: 37.5. Non-stop

3. Chicago:
Avg number of people each day: 29.9. Non-stop

4. Los Angeles:
Avg number of people each day: 22.5. Must connect

5. Denver
Avg number of people each day: 21.3. Non-stop

6. New York City:
Avg number of people each day: 18.8. Must connect

7. Orlando:
Avg number of people each day: 16.2. Must connect

8. Seattle:
Avg number of people each day: 15.7. Must connect

9. Philadelphia:
Avg number of people each day: 15.3. Must connect

10. Boston:
Avg number of people each day: 14.6. Must connect

See the numbers for the average number of people each day? There aren’t enough people going to any single destination to fill one regional jet in Springfield.

Here’s another way of putting it: there aren’t enough people going anywhere to justify air service in Springfield.

So how come we have service? This gets complicated, so please bear with me …

The Springfield to Dallas service is the busiest route we have — approximately 400 people a day use it, but only 38 make Dallas their final destination. The rest take a connecting flight from Dallas to go to their final destination.

Let’s go back to our Amarillo example …

If we asked an airline for non-stop service to Amarillo, we’d politely be told, “No, it’s a money loser. You can already get there by connecting through Dallas.”

And the same goes for Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Flagstaff, Hartford Centralia, Illinois; Muncie and Eau Claire … and almost anywhere else we can name …

Here’s a bottom line point: at minimum, anytime we ask an airline for new daily service, it must be for a city that is a major airline hub. And to take it a step further ….

When an airline considers adding service from a small market, such as Springfield, to a big hub, it’s not asking how many people want to fly from Springfield to that hub airport. It’s asking how many people it can connect beyond the hub, and how much revenue will those connecting customers generate?

It’s complicated. Please ask questions ....



2014 was the fourth busiest year in the 69-year history of our airport. The total passenger count for the year: 846,324. That’s a 12% increase in passengers when compared to the year before.

Not only was 2014 one of the airport’s best years, it’s the best year we've had since the beginning of the recession. And it’s a strong indication that the local and national economies are improving.

The success of 2014 comes after several years of gloomy news in the airline and airport industries. The last time we had double digit growth was before the recession — in 2005. And for the past five years passenger numbers have been flat or negative ...

During the recession, and in its aftermath, airlines made big cuts at airports across the country and Springfield was no exception. In 2011 alone the airlines cut the supply of seats here by 21.5%. Since then supply has been flat. And that’s where we're bucking the trend ...

Airlines are actually bringing seats back to Springfield because they see strong demand here. In 2014 the airlines increased our number of available seats by 5.3%. Nationwide, airlines added 1.8%.

Will double digit passenger growth continue in 2015?

It’s doubtful — double digit growth isn’t the norm at any airport. In 2014 the airlines basically figured out that they’d cut too much in Springfield. So they spent the year putting seats back in the market. That helped grow our passenger numbers.

The airlines are bringing even more seats to Springfield in 2015. Advance schedules show a 4.5% increase for the first half of the year. Nationwide, the supply of seats will be up 1.8%.

That local increase is further evidence that the Springfield air market is stable and getting stronger.




The last four months of the year are supposed to be slow times in the airport business. It's when vacations are over, the kids go back to school, and the number of people flying takes a proverbial dive. This year it's different at the Springfield airport — in September the total number of people using the airport rose 16.3 percent (that's compared to the same month last year). It's the best September performance since 2005 when the increase was 18 percent.

Delta Air Lines gets a lot of the credit for September's growth: on September 1 the airline began using a Boeing 717 for one of its five daily flights between Springfield and Atlanta. The bigger plane brought 60 more seats a day to Springfield. That meant that Delta grew its September passenger numbers in Springfield by 28.6 percent! But the other airlines grew their numbers too ...


American + 21.8%
Delta + 28.6%
United + 3.3%
Allegiant + 3.7%


At this pace we'll have more than 800,000 total passengers by the end of the year. That's happened only four times in the airport's history: in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009.



The number of people using the Springfield airport has been up since the first of year, but as the year progresses it’s becoming increasingly clear that the growth is not limited to Springfield. Other airports, approximately our size, are also seeing double digit growth.

It's worth mentioning because all of us have a tendency to view things from a local perspective. Even in today’s wired age it’s sometimes easy to forget that what happens in Southwest Missouri is tied to happenings across the nation, and the globe. Such is the case with airport passenger numbers.

Let’s take a look at total passenger growth at airports in the region, for the period January – August of this year:

  • (XNA) Northwest Arkansas: + %10.73
  • (FSM) Ft. Smith: + 6.77%
  • (LIT) Little Rock: - 5%
  • (TUL) Tulsa: + 4.6%
  • (SGF) Springfield-Branson: + 11.9%

Note that the airports with the largest growth are XNA and SGF. Besides similar growth numbers, both of these airports have something in common: from year to year they are roughly the same size in terms of passenger numbers and total number of commercial flights.

Now let’s look at passenger numbers for five airports that are much like ours in terms of population served, personal income, and per capita personal income. Here they are, along with their percentage change in passenger numbers for the period January-June, 2014:



Jan - June 2014

AVL Ashville, NC +12.5% Link
SGF Springfield, MO +12.1% Link
CRP Corpus Christi, TX +11.6% Link
SHV Shreveport, LA +9% Link
EUG Eugene, OR +2.89% Link
ROA Roanoke, VA -1% Link


So what’s the point? The point is that many airports our size are seeing significant growth this year; it’s not just happening in Springfield. There are several reasons for this, but I think there’s one that really stands out: between 2008 and 2011 the airlines made huge cuts at these airports (we saw a 22% cut in the number of available seats in 2011). The airlines cut back so much that passenger demand soon outpaced the number of available seats. So now the airlines are bringing seats back to these markets in order to meet demand.



Statistics tell us that flying is one of the safest ways to travel. At the Springfield airport we do our part to make sure it stays that way — for the tenth year in a row we’ve received a discrepancy free safety inspection from the Federal Aviation Administration.

On Monday the FAA recognized our success by awarding us the “Airport Safety Enhancement Award.” The award goes to airports which receive discrepancy free safety inspections three years in a row. Getting one discrepancy free inspection is a great accomplishment for any airport. Doing it ten years in a row is a rare achievement. Airfield maintenance worker, Troy Morehouse, sums it up best. “It’s like winning the Academy Award for best picture.”

The annual FAA safety inspection is a demanding review of everything at the airport that affects aircraft safety. If an airport can’t hack it, airlines can’t, and won't, fly there.

FAA inspectors review a long list. It includes runway pavement condition, airfield marking and lighting, the readiness of the airport fire department, snow and ice removal, security … it’s a very long list.

“It’s so vast. It has to do with fencing, with the height of grass, with wildlife ...” says Morehouse.


Wildlife was a hot topic with the public five years ago after a flock of Canada geese brought down a US Airways flight after take-off from New York City (the plane landed in the Hudson River with no loss of life). But airports have talked about wildlife for years — as in, "how do we control it?"

The airport must show FAA inspectors that it knows what wildlife is on the airport, and that it has a plan to deal with it.

Troy Morehouse retrieves a dead bird from a runway then logs the location on an airport map.


“Runway inspections are one way we track wildlife,” says Morehouse. You look for any remains of an animal hit by an aircraft. We collect it and record where it was found on the runway.” Even small birds get attention. “Smaller birds can be very dense. So when a plane hits them it’s almost the equivalent of getting hit by a baseball.”

Some wildlife control methods are obvious — like shooting off pyrotechnics to scare off birds. Other methods are more subtle. Suppose, for example, that a certain breed of hawk suddenly shows up in numbers. Airport staff might try to figure out what the hawks are eating — are there more rabbits in the area than before? To control the hawk population you might have to do something about the rabbits.


When an aircraft is on the ground it depends on airport lights, signs and paint to figure out where to go. The Springfield airport has about 1400 lights along the edges of the runways and taxiways. Add to that several hundred signs, along with miles and miles of painted lines. If you could put all the paint in a six inch line it would be 40 miles long. And all of it — lights, signs, paint — has to be nearly perfect.

“Each of those lights has its own transformer, so there are hundreds of transformers,” says Morehouse. “And miles and miles of cable connect all those lights.” It all has to work.

Image of planes at the airport terminal
Dozens of aircraft navigate the ground everyday at our airport. The fact that they do so safely is a testament to the hard work and dedication of airport staff.


After so many years of acing the inspection is there anyway to make things even better? Morehouse says there is ...

"We all try to better ourselves every day and improve on what we've done. That may sound kind of crazy — we've done so well the past 10 years — I mean what is there left to improve on? There's always something to improve on."

Only a few of the airport's hundred+ employees are seen here. Please know that everyone pitches in to make the airport's safety culture possible. This Thursday, September 18, the Airport Board, along with airport administration, will honor them all. The meeting begins at 8:00 am in Board Room, which is located in the main terminal building. Feel free to join us.

Image of airport staff fueling a plane
Airport staff Tim Boram is busy fueling a privately owned aircraft. The FAA inspects all aspects of aircraft fueling.


Image of airport staff painting pavement markings.
Miles and miles of painting to go -- Josh Shank and Tony Leckrone makes sure every inch meets FAA specs.


Image of airport staff working on a snow blower.
Jonathan Woodside doing maintenance on a snowblower. The FAA inspects nearly every piece of equipment on the airfield.


Image of grass being mowed
Thou "grass height shall be kept at 2-4 inches." Tony Leckrone makes sure it's so!


Aircraft rescue firefighter Eric Sanders does a daily fire truck inspection.