The Airline Hub blog links to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story wistful for transatlantic flights to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Now, if you click on the “prestige” tag below, you’ll see that I have had some scathing opinions about airports that go out of their way to secure transoceanic airline service that’s not supported by the market. I must be getting soft in 2008 (for auld lang syne, &c. . . . speaking of which, Happy New Year, dear readers!), because all I’m going to say to St. Louis is: Best wishes in your quest for Europe service. It’s not likely, given that the hometown hub airline can’t seem to make it work, but I wish you all the best of luck in your quest.
But I do need to clear the air on the reporter’s (and airport booster’s) assertions about the recently signed open skies agreement (see my take at the time here). He writes: “Now there’s hope that a new trans-Atlantic aviation treaty known as ‘Open Skies’ might eventually change [St. Louis’s dearth of Europe flights].” Why? “When the treaty takes effect in March, it’ll break up the rigid agreements that have long governed who can fly where across the Atlantic.”
Not quite. Yes, open skies ended the antiquarian Bermuda II agreement, but that governed only Heathrow Airport. But most European countries already had bilateral agreements with the United States to allow flights. Open skies simply regularizes the rules across Europe (and yes, cuts the nasty Gordian knot of Heathrow protectionism). So to say that it will break up “rigid agreements” is not really accurate.
“This is sparking lots of new routes overseas and hope at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport that one of them may end up here.” This is not really true. Several airlines’ plans to serve Heathrow have been announced, but there’s not much new service directly attributable to open skies. Much of the added service the reporter mentions could have been begun under previous rules.
“‘Open Skies will certainly be an opportunity for airports like Lambert,’ said Brian Kinsey, the airport’s business and marketing manager. ‘The playbooks have been rewritten, and I don’t think it will take as much to convince an air carrier to operate nonstop from St. Louis to Europe.'” I don’t know what playbook he’s reading, but open skies is simply not as revolutionary Kinsey thinks. The major change will allow European airlines to fly between the United States and countries beside their country of registration (that is, British Airways from New York to Rome or Air France from Washington to Dublin). And European airlines are already salivating over these routes–but the new routes that will get picked up in this way are all heavily traveled, O&D-intensive destinations, like New York, Chicago, and Orlando. Don’t expect St. Louis to be at the top of the list if it wasn’t there before open skies.
So, open skies will not, in and of itself, suddenly make medium-sized markets more desirable to transatlantic air carriers. It will foster consumer-friendly competition on routes between large U.S. and European markets.
Lambert may miss out [St. Louis Post-Dispatch via The Airline Hub]
Photo credit: Flickr user geodesic. Used through a Creative Commons license.
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