The number of Quad-City travelers driving to Chicago to catch flights has been increasing at the same time the Quad-City International Airport has seen fewer passengers from the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor, a new study shows.
At the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority meeting Tuesday, airport consultant Mike Bown, of Trillion Aviation, presented some of the findings of a new Regional Booking Analysis. The report looks at where the Quad-City airport draws passengers from, as well as where it loses passengers to, or what is known as leakage. He said the full report would come at a later date.
Bown said that when AirTran was in the Quad-Cities market, as much as 30 percent of the Quad-City airport's bookings originated in the Iowa City-Coralville-Cedar Rapids corridor. For the year ending August 2017, the Moline airport captured only 5 percent of the bookings out of the eastern Iowa region.
According to Bown, the Quad-City airport's enplanements have dropped by about 150,000 enplaned passengers, or about 30 percent, since AirTran's departure with the majority of the losses coming from less traffic from the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor.
Low-fare carrier AirTran left the Quad-City market in January 2012.
Comparing the data with similar studies conducted in 2010 and 2013, he said the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids now is keeping 86 percent of its region's bookings.
"Now, I'd say its back to normal," he said the passenger mix.
In addition, the Quad-City airport began to see an increase in leakage to Chicago in 2013. As of August, about 31 percent of the bookings originating in the Quad-Cities flew out of Chicago. That percentage was up from 23 percent in 2013 and 19 percent in 2010.
Overall, the Quad-City airport is retaining 66 percent of its bookings for the catchment area, he said, adding that the airport still is reaping benefits from the travelers drawn here during the AirTran days.
He said comparatively, the leakage "is a lot better than other markets."
"If you're in close proximity to a major hub, you have a lot more leakage," Bown said. "Yours, even though it is worse (than it has been), you're still not terrible."
He said some airports with close major hubs have as much as 80 percent leakage.
"Today, you are very reliant on the Quad-Cities (for passengers)," Bown said. The study showed the Quad-Cities only loses 2 percent of its bookings to Cedar Rapids.
Commissioner Molly Foley said the findings show that without AirTran, the Quad-City airport would never had seen the boost in Iowa City-Cedar Rapids passengers that it did.
But the airport's focus, she said, needs to be on the leakage to Chicago. "That needs to be the conversation. That is business (travel). We need to focus on how to decrease the amount of leakage we're seeing to Chicago," she said questioning why the airport continues to focus advertising dollars on the Iowa City - Cedar Rapids corridor.
After the meeting, Foley said the airport and staff need to become more involved in the region's business about economic development conversations. "We need to be at the table," she said. "We are a major part of the region's economic development. But we are not the entire equation. Our drop in enplanements is not just an airport issue, it's a regional issue. Air service drives economic growth, but economic growth drives air service."
The airport authority has an all-day strategic planning session scheduled for Thursday at the airport.
During the airport authority's meeting, Bruce Carter, the aviation director, reported that enplanements were down 8 percent for the month of September. That puts enplanements down 10 percent year to date, he said.
In September, the airport's carriers reported 26,459 enplanements, which compares to 28,829 a year ago. Year to date, enplanements are 246,202, which is down from 272,827 a year ago.
By carrier, Allegiant was the only airline with an increase in enplanements in September. It was up 15 percent to 3,093 enplanements. American Eagle/Envoy was flat at 6,663. Delta was down 9 percent to 9,515, and United Express was down 21 percent to 6,845 in the month.
Carter said charter flights were up 52 percent in September, in part, due to the Western Illinois University teams traveling through the Quad-City airport for away games. "We're hoping they make it to the playoffs," he said.