CIRA’s 2016 Numbers

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Actual numbers have been released.

The stats page on Central Illinois Regional Airport’s website provides enplanements and deplanements for 2016. Last year, the Bloomington-Normal facility handled 381,109 passengers. These are broken down to 192,140 enplanements and 188,969 deplanements. The disparity may be related to weather-related flight cancellations.

A slight increase over 2015’s 379,186 passengers, this marks the end of CIRA’s slide following AirTran Airways’ departure in June 2012.

– David P. Jordan

2016 Gives CIRA Slight Increase in Passengers!

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Central Illinois Regional Airport’s passenger traffic increased slightly in 2016.

Radio Station WJBC is first to offer a figure – 381,000 – albeit a rounded one. This was about 2,000 higher than 2015. Given the Bloomington-Normal facility’s month-over-month growth it experienced last year, particularly October’s 18 percent, this is not a surprise.

I’ll update as soon as I have more information.

– David P. Jordan

CIRA Gets Bigger Jets to DFW; 2016 Pax Numbers Still Absent (Updated)

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One of my readers alerted me December 9 to this upgrade. Strange that CIRA took six weeks to make it public.

According to a press release post today, American Eagle’s two daily nonstops between Bloomington/Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) and Dallas/Ft. Worth will be flown with 76-seat CRJ900s starting March 6, replacing 50-seat Embraer 145s. This will give CIRA first-class seating to American Airlines’ big Texas hub.

While this is good news, 2016 passenger figures have not been released. At least I haven’t been able to find them. I was almost expecting to see this information hidden in the bottom paragraph of today’s news about DFW service.

Are passenger numbers that bad that CIRA would avoid releasing these figures in hopes of avoiding the bad news? If so, the problem would had to have occurred in the last two months of 2016. That’s because CIRA appears to have had a slight increase in traffic through October.

Using the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as a source (note that numbers exclude charter passengers), we learned that CIRA handled 316,053 passengers the first ten months of the year. That’s only 0.075 percent higher than 2015’s 313,686 in the same period, but it’s still higher.

Perhaps a fare war between American Airlines (via Charlotte) and Delta Air Lines (via Atlanta) out of Peoria the last two months of 2016 significantly reduced CIRA’s numbers? The thing is, if CIRA traffic for the last two months of 2016 matched the same period in 2015 (54,980) then the final tally would be something like 8000 fewer passengers, or about 371,000. Not exactly good news, but not as bad as it could have been given the shutdown of Mitsubishi Motor Mfg. of America, Frontier Airlines’ decision to drop CIRA in April 2016 and the lingering effects of AirTran Airways’ withdrawal in 2012.

You can bet that if 2016 numbers increased over 2015, CIRA would throw a party and the news would be on the front page of The Pantagraph, an editorial would declare an end to the decline, and everyone in McLean County would be smarting over their airport’s increase over Peoria’s decrease.

But we really don’t know until we see the numbers, do we?

UPDATE (Jan. 24, 2017): CIRA’s board meeting had been scheduled for January 10. Today, the website was updated to show a special meeting on January 26. I suspect we’ll learn 2016 passenger figures shortly. The delay explains why we haven’t seen this info yet. There is a possibility that CIRA’s traffic actually grew last year, particularly since October traffic was 18 percent higher than the same month in 2015. It all depends on November and December traffic.

(NOTE: I shot the American Eagle CRJ900 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on June 27, 2016.)

– David P. Jordan

PIA Passenger Figures Released Jan. 17, Where are CIRA’s?

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A year ago, I suggested the Central Illinois Regional Airport was embarrassed to release its passenger tally for 2015. A local radio station (WJBC AM 1230) had quoted an official saying there were 9.7 percent fewer flights versus 2014. One day after my post, The Pantagraph reported the numbers.

I’m not saying my post had an influence on the pace of news. Rather, CIRA had already provided the numbers to the newspaper. That was January 16, 2016. It is now January 20, 2017 and we still don’t have 2016’s figures.

Is CIRA again embarrassed?

There may be good reasons to be. Traffic at CIRA grew in May and June, but probably dropped off late in the year as American Eagle began Peoria-Charlotte nonstops. This likely prompted fare cuts by Delta [Connection] on seats via Atlanta, thus causing a surge in business at Peoria. GPAA advertised the new service around Bloomington-Normal and no doubt attract more than a few travelers at CIRA’s expense.

Furthermore, American Eagle eliminated its third CIRA-Dallas/Ft.Worth nonstop, begun last March. This might have been just a seasonal reduction, but will it not return since CIRA, like Peoria, is soon getting larger aircraft on this route. Delta’s decision to end Detroit service in late-July (though with a compensatory capacity increase to Atlanta), and a seasonal reduction in frequency to Minneapolis/St. Paul probably reduced traffic in the last half of 2016.

CIRA handled 379,186 passengers in 2015, the lowest volume since 1997. Will 2016 continue that downward path? In the first six months (excluding charter passengers), CIRA traffic was down 3.4 percent. If the trend has continued, 2016’s figure could be between 350,000 and 370,000. At least the decline may have slowed.

– David P. Jordan

Outlook for Downstate Illinois Airports – 2017 (Updated!)

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I decided to create a new post to answer an inquiry from a reader.

David, what are your early predictions for end of year airport totals for all central Illinois airports, including MLI?

I’ll offer my thoughts broken down by facility.

BLOOMINGTON/NORMAL (Central Illinois Regional Airport – BMI/CIRA)
CIRA lost its low-fare advantage when AirTran Airways dropped service in June 2012. Declining passenger traffic (down 34.5% since 2011) eased a bit the first half of 2016 since May and June numbers were higher than last year. But the loss of Detroit flights at the end of July decreases options for travelers. This year’s passenger numbers will likely be below 400,000.

The year 2017 offers some hope. Passenger traffic could actually increase slightly. American Eagle starts using 76-seat CRJ900s on its two daily DFW nonstops March 9. The third roundtrip begin in March apparently ended this summer, and won’t return thanks to the use of larger jets. This move might not necessarily increase traffic at CIRA, but spares it the loss of passengers since the same upgrade is coming to Peoria three weeks earlier. CIRA lost out to Peoria on Charlotte service, so I wouldn’t expect such service to be offered here in the forseeable future.

Allegiant Air will likely maintain nonstops to two Florida points: Orlando-Sanford and St. Petersburg/Clearwater. This carrier has suffered bad publicity for aircraft maintenance issues, but a recent order for new A-320NEOs and acquisition of second-hand A-319s and A-320s will allow retirement of the older MD-80s that suffer all-too frequent incidents. I don’t see any new destinations on the horizon,though twice-weekly Punta Gorda flights wouldn’t surprise me. Service to Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa would cannabilize the Peoria market rather than increase traffic for the airline.

Delta Air Lines has temporarily suspended 717-200 service to CIRA from Atlanta (probably to add capacity in other markets for the holiday travel season), but resumes January 7. This service initially started January 5, 2016. That Delta seems to be keeping this aircraft in the CIRA market (with temporary exceptions) is a good sign. In addition to Atlanta flights, Delta offers at least a daily nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul. A second roundtrip started June 1, but was apparently for the summer season.

On a final Delta note, Rivian Automotive’s intent to purchase the former Mitsubishi auto assembly plant at Normal, Illinois could prompt restoration of Detroit service. Rivian has offices in Detroit, and as operations are ramped up, perhaps as a result Delta will see a need to restore a link with that hub.

CHAMPAIGN/URBANA (University of Illinois-Willard Airport, CMI)
A new marketing campaign begin in 2015 to increase service and lure another carrier or two has yet to yield fruit. Unless carriers decide that the Central Illinois region is best served by a PIA-CMI axis and not a PIA-BMI one, I can’t see much happening here. Retirement of Embraer 145s, some of which received maintenance here, will likely bring changes. But I don’t expect these in 2017.

DECATUR (Decatur Airport, DEC)
Air Choice One should continue to offer Essential Air Service to Chicago-O’Hare and St. Louis during 2017. I believe the contract was renewed early this year, but for how long I don’t know. One wonders why passengers can’t just use BMI, CMI, SPI or even PIA for their travel accommodations.

MOLINE/QUAD CITIES (Quad City International Airport, MLI)
This facility, like CIRA, has taken a big hit since losing AirTran Airways service. Peak traffic came in 2007 when 966,142 passengers flew through MLI. In 2015, only 730,292 passengers used MLI, a decline of 24.4%, though over a greater period than CIRA. Fortunately, the decline has eased, and is only down 7.9% since 2011.

I’d not be surprised to see MLI see an increase in traffic during 2017. American Eagle begins twice-daily CR900 DFW service on January 9-10. MLI, like CIRA, lost its first chance for expanded service when American Eagle picked PIA and Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CID) for new Charlotte nonstops. Depending on how well these markets perform, I’d expect MLI to be added in time, but not likely next year.

As for the others, Allegiant Air offers nonstops to Las Vegas, Orlando-Sanford, Phoenix-Mesa, Punta Gorda and St. Petersburg/Clearwater. The carrier has recently been adding larger cities to its network, but I don’t expect this to be done at the expense of facilities like MLI. Someday, nonstop international points will be added from MLI, but perhaps not in 2017.

Delta Connection maintains nonstops to three hubs – Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I don’t expect that to change. At least the Atlanta market gets larger regional jets. United Express offers service to its Chicago (O’Hare) and Denver hubs. Service to the latter is down to just one daily roundtrip

PEORIA (Gen. Wayne A Downing Peoria International Airport, PIA)
Allegiant Air’s plans to offer flights to the Caribbean and Mexico is believed the reason for construction of new Federal Inspection Service (FIS) facilities at a number of smaller commercial airports around the Midwest. Peoria’s facility opened in late-May. I don’t expect international service to begin in 2017, but it wouldn’t surprise me if preparations to start service, predicated on funding for five full-time FIS employees, were under way by year’s end.

International status keeps PIA’s stature above its other central Illinois contempories. But better air service and competitive fares have driven passenger traffic to record levels four years in a row.

Earlier this year, Allegiant Air apparently asked PIA to poll travelers’ preferences for three destinations: Los Angeles, Destin (Florida) and Myrtle Beach. Cedar Rapids and Des Moines have Los Angeles service, but distance and gate availability are likely reasons Peoria and Moline aren’t served from southern California.

I’ve not heard about load factors on American Eagle’s new Charlotte flights, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t doing well. Assuming that’s the case, then AA is giving Delta Air Lines/Delta Connection a run for its money as it pertains to competitive connections via Atlanta and Charlotte. Traffic through PIA is likely to be stimulated as a result, and probably means PIA will at least crack 600,000 passengers in 2016, and sets the stage for good numbers (if not a record) in 2017.

Now that American Eagle is beginning two-class service to DFW on February 16, I expect Delta Connection, if it senses the need, to phase in larger regional jets in the Peoria market, perhaps before the end of 2017.

It is hoped the airport authority can persuade United Express to restore Peoria-Denver nonstops. That regional partners to American Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer service to three hubs, but United only one, is a clear competitive disadvantage.

SPRINGFIELD (Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, SPI)
Allegiant Air flights to Orlando-Sanford and Punta Gorda, and American Eagle’s DFW nonstops, have given SPI traffic gains the past few years. Officials have been lobbying for a third DFW roundtrip and service to Las Vegas.

Will SPI get more service in 2017? Hard to say, since Allegiant Air seems more interested in larger markets. American Eagle is more likely to switch to CRJ900s on its DFW flights than add a third frequency.

A FINAL NOTE…
Passenger traffic and air service levels in the coming year are predicated on fuel prices. If these rise significantly, expect cutbacks in frequency, and perhaps routes. That and increasing low-fare competition at Minneapolis/St. Paul may cause Delta [Connection] to reduce service to downstate Illinois markets, particularly CIRA (MLI and PIA have a better chance of retention).

  • In summary, BMI’s passenger traffic may have stabilized. Higher traffic is possible in 2017.
  • CMI wants new service but probably won’t get it in 2017.
  • DEC will not see any changes in Air Choice One’s EAS service to ORD and STL
  • MLI’s passenger traffic has stabilized, and higher traffic is likely in 2017.
  • PIA won’t post a record in 2016, but traffic should be higher in 2017 thanks to Atlanta vs. Charlotte competition. Larger jets to DFW will help as well.
  • SPI should remain stable, but new service in 2017 may be elusive.

UPDATE (Dec. 29, 2016): The Wall Street Journal posted this article November 18 about renewed interest by United Air Lines in small cities. CFO Andrew Levy was quoted as saying, “The only places with reasonable fares are smaller cities…That’s where the money is.” The airline may add up to 20 small cities to its network, possibly those routes out of Chicago-O’Hare that the airline does not compete with rival American Airlines (actually regional partner American Eagle).

So the obvious question: Are CIRA and CMI possible additions to the United Express network in 2017? United Express served CIRA from 2000 to 2008. The carrier served CMI nearly a quarter century ago. Given its more recent history in CiRA, I’d give that city the upper hand, but CMI’s distance from existing points served by the airline might be in its favor.

– David P. Jordan

PIA vs. CIRA: First Six Months of 2016

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These days, airport authorities release passenger traffic figures only if they’re rising. Thus, why we haven’t seen any figures about 2016 traffic at Peoria Int’l Airport (PIA) or Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA).

Fortunately, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics publishes monthly traffic figures for perusal. For proprietary reasons, figures are published after a three-month delay, however. This being October, we now have passenger stats for the first half of 2016.

It should be noted that BTS figures exclude charter traffic, so the numbers are somewhat less than “official” numbers shown in a press release. Nevertheless, they provide us with sufficient data to determine trends. Both PIA and CIRA experienced a declining in passenger traffic.

Peoria’s numbers so far for 2016 are (2015 figures in parentheses)

January 2016 – 43,387 (45,796)
February 2016 – 44,413 (43,417)
March 2016 – 57,284 (59,518)
April 2016 – 49,039 (52,028)
May 2016 – 50,503 (53,072)
June 2016 – 57,180 (58,316)

TOTAL – 301,806 (312,147).

So in the first half of 2016, PIA experienced a 3.3 percent decline in passenger traffic. Hardly suprising given Caterpillar’s cutbacks, and continuing anxiety about future cuts. If the trend continues, PIA might still crack 600,000 passenger this year, especially after American Eagle adds Charlotte flights on November 4.

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Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport saw a 3.4 percent decline in passengers the first half of 2016 (2015 figures in parentheses)

January 2016 – 25,173 (31,142)
February 2016 – 25,252 (27,802)
March 2016 – 32,841 (35,759)
April 2016 – 31,038 (32,763)
May 2016 – 34,508 (32,364)
June 2016 – 35,940 (31,452)

TOTAL – 184,752 (191,282)

The last two months show an increase in traffic. Loss of the Mitsubishi auto plant had to have had a negative impact, but these increases are curious. American Eagle’s third DFW roundtrip began March 3, but passenger traffic declined in that month and April. Perhaps State Farm’s expanded Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix area facilities are generating more business travel to and from Central Illinois? Regardless, I expect 2016’s tally to be less than 400,000 passengers.

– David P. Jordan

Delta Connection to End CIRA-Detroit!

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Bloomington-Normal’s air service takes a hit this summer.

One of my readers gave me a heads up this morning that Endeavor Air dba Delta Connection is discontinuing its Detroit flights out of Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA).

The single roundtrip that is operating at present most days a week will be dropped after Friday, July 29.

Not all news is bad. Service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, another Delta Airlines hub, recently increased to two roundtrips. And three daily Atlanta roundtrips are dominated by larger jets, including mainline Delta service with a Boeing 717-200. Capacity to that largest of Delta hubs will grow with two 65-seat CRJ700s being replaced by 76-seat CRJ900s.

The news isn’t all good either. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ February 2016 figures shows continuing decline in passeners at CIRA. That month, scheduled airlines handled 25,252 passengers. That is down 9.2% from February 2015’s 27,802 passengers.

Not surprisingly, Peoria International Airport continues to dominate the Central Illinois air service market. BTS figures for February 2016 show scheduled passengers increased to 44,313 over February 2015’s 43,417. This represents an anemic 2.1% increase, but an increase nonetheless.

The region’s air service continues to adjust to the loss of AirTran Airways, four years hence. CIRA mostly suffers, PIA mostly soars.

– David P. Jordan

PIA vs. CIRA January 2016

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A reader asked about recent passenger figures for Peoria International Airport the first three months of 2016. Unfortunately, the airport has not issued a press release to provide these figures. However, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics releases scheduled passenger traffic by individual airport after three months.

So if you want to compare January 2016 and those from a year earlier, we see a 5.3 percent decline in scheduled passenger traffic at PIA. Not an unexpected situation given Caterpillar’s recent cutbacks.

Jan. 2015 – 45,796
Jan. 2016 – 43,387

Then I looked up figures for Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA). Something which surprised me is that CIRA has experienced a severe decline in passengers – 19.2%!

Jan. 2015 – 31,142
Jan. 2016 – 25,173

Recent additions to CIRA by Allegiant Air (more flights to Orlando-Sanford), American Eagle (3rd DFW roundtrip) and Delta Connection (2nd summer flight to MSP) in the past year would suggest some growth. Obviously, Mitsubishi’s closure has had some effect, though I suspect Caterpillar’s downsizing is also a factor here as well.

The effect State Farm Insurance’s emphasis on regional centers in Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta is having on CIRA is not yet clear. But the first two locations are likely influencing American Eagle’s buildup of CIRA-DFW flights from one to three roundtrips since October 2013.

The Pantagraph ran this article on March 27 trying to explain the decline. It includes the standard line about changes in the airline industry. Yet it also admits Peoria and Springfield airports saw growth last year. The real reason for CIRA’s unfortunate decline is that AirTran Airways’ three daily low-fare nonstops to Atlanta (and daily service to Orlando) distorted this region’s air service in CIRA’s favor. When AirTran withdraw in 2012, that distortion ended, and there has been a re-balance, i. e., fares are higher, but more equalized among PIA, CIRA, SPI, etc. This re-balance continues.

Whatever the case, if January trends hold, PIA will probably handle just above 600,000 passengers in 2016 while CIRA will see about half that figure.

– David P. Jordan

Delta to Double CIRA-Minneapolis/St. Paul Service

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Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) will be getting more service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. SkyWest Airlines dba Delta Connection is doubling service to two roundtrips daily starting June 1. All flights will be operated with 50-seat Canadair RJ200s.

This move increases Delta service out of CIRA to six departures daily – three to Atlanta, one to Detroit and two to Minneapolis/St. Paul. By early March, American Eagle wil also offer six daily departures – three each to Chicago-O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Allegiant Air provides four weekly flights to Orlando-Sanford (FL) and twice weekly flights to St. Petersburg/Clearwater (FL).

– David P. Jordan

CIRA Too Embarrassed To Release 2015 Figures? (Updated)

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Passenger traffic through Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) declined again in 2015, but exact figures haven’t been made public.

The only story I could find from a Bloomington/Normal-area source was on WJBC Radio 1230’s news page. The only figure offered was this

CIRA Spokeswoman Fran Strebing said there were 9.7 percent fewer flights in 2015 compared to 2014.

MY TAKE
The airport’s 2014 passenger tally was 412,045, down 3.9 percent from 2013. That 9.7 percent figure reflects a decline in available seats (thanks to Frontier Airlines’ withdrawal April 27), but remaining flights might have posted higher load factors. A similar 3.9 percent decline in 2015 would cause traffic to dip below 400,000 for the first time since 1998 when CIRA handled just 382,091 passengers. I can’t confirm this without actual figures.

It is possible CIRA officials are too embarrassed to provide actual figures that show a decline for the fourth year in a row. It isn’t their fault – the airline industry can be fickle – but hiding bad news is unacceptable. For the sake of historical documentation, we need to know how many passengers traveled through CIRA last year.

At least CIRA can boast the return of Delta Air Lines mainline service. Last week, the carrier replaced a 76-seat Delta Connection CRJ900 its evening arrival/morning departure to Atlanta with a 110-seat Boeing 717-200. PeoriaStation reported this back in October.

UPDATE (Jan. 16) – The Pantagraph is reporting an 8 percent drop in CIRA passenger traffic in 2015. Only 379,186 passengers were handled last year, slightly below 1998’s figure! Some interesting information in this article.

Olson said increased capacity on the morning Atlanta flight, plus more consistent schedules to Detroit and Minneapolis, will help increase traffic. Additional Dallas-Fort Worth flights are expected in March and April.

“We continue to work toward bringing additional leisure destinations to the market, also, although no commitments have been made at this time,” he said.

Some thoughts…

(1) According to American Airlines’ online schedules, a third DFW-CIRA roundtrip daily except Saturday starts March 3. Perhaps Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance’s Dallas and Phoenix centers are in fact generating more business travel to and from headquarters.

(2) Presumably, additional leisure destinations would be flown by Allegiant Air. Not sure the airline would cannibalize its Peoria-Las Vegas/Phoenix-Mesa flights, but it is always possible they’d offer service from CIRA as well in the not-too-distant future.

– David P. Jordan