Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport: Expanding Services in the Shadow of Large Competitors

Case Study – Hub size: non-hub | Characteristic: multi-airport region

STS Case Study

The Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS or “airport”) is located near the City of Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County. The Santa Rosa-Petaluma Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is part of the larger San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area (CSA). In the broader North Bay Region (“region”) that comprises several counties north of San Francisco, STS is the only airport that offers scheduled commercial air service. STS defines its catchment area to be broader than the Santa Rosa-Petaluma MSA and to include an estimated population of 1.2 million in 2018.

The Santa Rosa-Petaluma MSA

STS faces a significant competitive challenge from other nearby commercial airports with significantly more air service options. STS is a relatively short distance from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), San Jose International Airport (SJC), and Sacramento International Airport (SMF).

AirportDistance (miles)Drive time (hrs.)Avg. daily flights 2019Markets served 2019
Sonoma County (STS)----129
Oakland International Airprot (OAK)741.2514842
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)741.5520101
Sacramento International Airport (SMF)105215835
San Jose International (SJC)119219541

Regional Economic Strengths

The region’s economy revolves around high technology industries; agriculture, particularly the world-famous wine industry; and tourism. The area’s economy features multiple tradeable clusters that are among the top performers in the country. They include those associated with the region’s agricultural and wine industry (food processing), along with agriculture, medical devices (e.g., optical instruments, surgical and dental instruments), and financial services.

The Airport and Its Commercial Service

STS Air Service Overview
STS Air Service Overview

Somewhat uniquely at STS, capacity was constrained by the length of its main runway. When Alaska Airlines initiated service at STS in 2007, it could do so because the airport’s main runway could accommodate the airline’s 76-seat turboprop Q400s. Alaska Airlines started service with flights to Los Angeles International and Seattle Tacoma International. It then expanded to Portland and Las Vegas.

After the airport extended its main runway in 2014, the total capacity offered at the airport rose significantly as airlines added jet service. Alaska Airlines added daily flights to Orange County John Wayne Airport in 2016. From 2017 to 2019, American Airlines added service to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Dallas/Ft. Worth International, and Los Angeles; and United Airlines entered service at STS with operations to San Francisco International (SFO) then added service to Denver International. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of flights and seats basically doubled. In July 2019, airlines serving STS offered nonstop scheduled services to 10 destinations with an average of 825 daily seats. Alaska Airlines provided 63 percent of the available seat capacity.


STS Connectivity
STS Connectivity

After the 2014 runway extension enabled the introduction or expansion of nonstop service to well-connected hubs like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, connectivity at STS increased substantially. Service to these hubs facilitated onward connections to a larger number of markets and regions, thereby helping to more than double the air connectivity from STS between 2014 and 2019. The single largest year of growth in connectivity at STS occurred between 2016 and 2017, when connectivity jumped by 37 percent due largely to the introduction of daily service to SFO and PHX.

Analysis of Air Service and Economic Activity

STS Employment and O&D Traffic
STS Employment and O&D Traffic

Passenger traffic is highly correlated with total regional employment. As total regional employment increased, total origin and destination (O&D) traffic at STS also increased. However, correlation does not establish causation. It is not clear whether changes in employment lead to changes in O&D activity or vice versa. (The graph only shows data for those years when the main runway was lengthened, allowing jet service.) A similar correlation exists if employment is restricted to those sectors that have a greater reliance or dependency on air service, such as financial and insurance services; professional, scientific, and technical services; real estate; and management of companies. As employment in those sectors rises, so does O&D traffic at STS and vice versa.

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

Airport management works closely with all its partners including the local Chambers of Commerce, Sonoma County Tourism, and Visit Santa Rosa. These partners have provided financial, marketing, and data support for STS’s air service development initiatives.

STS believes that for most stakeholders a high-level economic impact study works best. However, to convince the business community to support air service development efforts (especially those aimed at expanding connectivity), economic analyses that demonstrate how new connecting service would benefit the community economically and environmentally would be valuable. The analyses need to have a robust and easily communicated storyline.

STS Case Study – Full Report

San Diego: More Than Just a Tourist Destination

Case Study – Hub size: large | Characteristic: multi-airport region | Economic strength of region: PST

SAN Case Study

In Southern California, San Diego is renowned as a major tourist destination attracting close to 35.2 million tourists annually. With a population of more than 3.3 million, it is the second largest county in California and the fifth largest county in the United States.  San Diego International Airport (SAN) offers close to 500 flights daily, with over 60 nonstop destinations in the United States, Asia, Europe, Mexico, and Canada. This region is included as a case study because it is a large hub competing in an area served by multiple large airports.

San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad MSA

Economic Strengths

San Diego County has grown moderately in both its population and employment since 2008. Total population rose by 316,000 (10 percent).  This is slightly faster than growth for California as a whole, which increased by 8 percent. Total employment increased by more than 320,000 (17 percent), slightly below the rate for California (which rose by 19 percent). 

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)3,0223,33831610%
Total Employment (000s)1,8832,20432117%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

Economic activity in industries related to tourism, which accounts for 13 percent of San Diego’s economy, supports 199,800 employees. But San Diego’s economy includes other sectors as well. San Diego is home to the largest military concentration in the world. More than 60 percent of vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet are stationed in San Diego, and defense-related activities make up 9.1 percent of the regional economy. The other largest industries in the local economy are finance; real estate; insurance; professional, scientific, and technical (PST) services; and information. A leading high-tech hub in the United States, the region’s innovation cluster (including information and communications, aerospace and navigation, as well as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals) accounts for 9.7 percent of the regional economy. These PST services employed 233,000, which is an increase of 21 percent from 2008 to 2019.

SAN Employment Growth
Industry Sectors Exceeding Average Employment Growth, 2008–2019

The U.S. Cluster Mapping Project highlights the region’s economic advantages. The area is ranked 8th nationally in its economic strength in hospitality and tourism (including accommodations and amusement parks). The region also shows strengths in aerospace and defense, biopharmaceuticals, information technology and analytical instruments, marketing, and education. Not surprisingly considering the concentration of naval activity, the area is ranked in the top 10 nationally in water transportation (e.g., boat building and repair).

Air Service and Connectivity

SAN Air Service Overview
SAN Air Service Overview
Source: Schedule data from Diio by Cirium

SAN flights and seats increased every year from 2011 to 2019. The airport handled a record of more than 25 million passengers in 2019. Following recovery from the global economic downturn in 2008, passenger traffic grew at a compound average growth rate of 6 percent between 2014 and 2019. The total number of nonstop markets served grew from 50 to 60 and includes flights to Mexico, Canada, Asia, and Europe. Available seat capacity rose by 27 percent.

Connectivity at SAN in 2019 was 25 percent higher than 2008 levels, with continued growth in nonstop passenger services to key destinations. International markets accounted for much of the increase. Between 2009 and 2017, flights were begun to Toronto (2009), London (Heathrow) (2011), Tokyo (2012), and Frankfurt (2017).

SAN Connectivity
IATA Connectivity Index for SAN, Indexed Against 2008 (2008 = 100)
Source: InterVISTAS analysis of Innovata schedule data from Diio Mi

With Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) about a 2.5-hour drive away, SAN leaks passenger traffic to LAX, especially for international services. SAN also competes for traffic with John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, Ontario International Airport (ONT) in San Bernardino County, and Tijuana International Airport (TIJ).

Analysis of Changes in Air Services and Employment

As the regional economy develops through increases in employment, total passenger traffic also increases. The correlation coefficient between origin and destination (O&D) traffic at the airport and employment in aviation-reliant industries is 0.97, indicating a strong positive relationship. Yet correlation does not establish causation. That is, it is not evident whether rising employment levels lead to more air traffic or whether more air traffic leads to more total employment.

SAN Employment and O&D Traffic
Relationship Between Total O&D Passenger Traffic and Aviation-Reliant Industry Employment

Airport Connections with Regional Economic Stakeholders

SAN has used its economic impact studies in air service development initiatives, especially in pursuing international air services. SAN also used the studies when undertaking new capital infrastructure projects. Although the economic impact studies were not necessary to justify these new services or projects, they quantified the value of SAN in economic terms. The studies have been well received by stakeholders, with many organizations citing the results in their own newsletters.

SAN Case Study – Full Report

Reno-Tahoe: Rebounding from Economic and Air Service Decay

Case Study – Hub size: small | Characteristic: rebound region

RNO Case Study

Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) is the principal commercial airport in northwestern Nevada, serving a total catchment area of 1.5 million people. From 2008 through 2014, total passenger traffic at RNO dropped by 1.2 million (25.5 percent). However, traffic nearly completely recovered between 2015 and 2019, rising by 1.1 million. The rebound in commercial air service has accompanied a similar rebound in the regional economy, which sought a return to its traditional tourism-driven sectors while diversifying into new and emerging industries. The Reno-Tahoe region is included as a case study based on the recovery of its economy and air services following the Great Recession (2007–2009).

Reno–Tahoe–Fernley Combined Statistical Area (CSA)

Introduction to the Region and Its Economy

200820152019Change 2008-2015Change 2015-2019
Population (000s)574600638265%386%
Total Employment (000s)369362414(7)-2%5214%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The Reno-Tahoe-Fernley Combined Statistical Area (“Reno-Tahoe region” or the CSA) encompasses the northwestern corner of the state of Nevada including the state capital of Carson City as well as the state’s second most populous city, Reno. The CSA had a 2019 population of 638,000.

The region experienced a significant loss of employment associated with the Great Recession. From 2008 through 2015, total employment in the area dropped by 6,700 jobs even though the population grew by approximately 27,000 persons. Since then, as the national economy and regional economies recovered, the CSA added more than 50,000 new jobs, growing to well above pre-recession levels.

Regional Economic Strengths

Traditionally, the area’s employment base has been grounded in government service and tourism-related sectors. Public service, which includes public education (e.g., Nevada State University, Reno) as well as government activity associated with the state capital and multiple major municipalities, is the largest employment category in the region. Additionally, the area’s gaming industry and proximity to Lake Tahoe and resorts in the Sierra Nevada have long made it a major tourism destination.

Since the Great Recession, which negatively affected tourism sectors, the region has had a major recovery in economic activity that is due in large part to emerging business activity in advanced manufacturing, high-tech, biotech, and logistics. New infrastructure, such as the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, has supported the arrival of large employers in distribution/warehousing, data centers, and manufacturing—sectors that drove net new job growth and increased average incomes between 2015 and 2019.

Overview of the Airport and Its Services

RNO Air Service Overview
RNO Air Service Overview

RNO is Nevada’s second largest commercial airport by passenger traffic, serving more than 4.3 million passengers in 2019. The past decade of passenger traffic at RNO is marked by two distinct periods. The first, between 2008 and 2014, marked the continuation of a decade-long decline in traffic. During the second period, from 2015 to 2019, RNO experienced a period of strong growth, rising from 3.2 million passengers to more than 4.3 million passengers (a compound annual growth rate of 6.0). This rebound came as the region experienced a resurgence in economic activity, as well as a re-introduction of seat capacity by multiple airlines.

Southwest is the primary passenger carrier at RNO, although several other airlines offer a diversity of low-cost, ultra-low-cost, and mainline services.


RNO Connectivity
RNO Connectivity

“Connectivity” generally means the ability to reach a wide range of places in a short amount of time. Changes in connectivity can have notable impacts on how easily northwestern Nevada can be reached or how local residents and businesses can access outside markets.

By 2019, although seat capacity remained 13 percent lower than seat capacity in 2008, RNO’s connectivity nearly returned to prior levels. RNO retained and, in some cases, increased seat capacity to major hubs such as  Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Denver International Airport (DEN), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). RNO has become better linked into hubs, thereby maintaining its overall connectivity.

Air Service and Economic Activity

RNO employment and O&D traffic update
RNO Employment and O&D Traffic

RNO’s origin and destination (O&D) traffic is positively correlated with total regional employment. As total regional employment increases, O&D traffic generally increases too. It is important to note that correlation does not establish causation. That is, it is not evident whether rising total employment levels lead to more air traffic or whether more air traffic leads to more total employment. Nonetheless, growth in O&D traffic at RNO is more highly correlated to regional employment than regional population, suggesting that employment (and by extension economic activity) is more closely related to aviation traffic growth than population growth alone.

Stakeholder Perspectives on Contribution of Air Service to Economic Development

The airport authority’s strategic priorities involve a commitment to working with regional stakeholders, including partnering with local economic development and business associations to understand market demand. Air service development (ASD) at RNO is also supported through the Regional Air Service Corporation (RASC), a consortium of public and private entities that collects community input on ASD initiatives including much of the private financing for ASD marketing. Representation at RASC has diversified over time to include businesses beyond the region’s traditional gaming sector.

Community stakeholders acknowledge that air service supports all the region’s economic development goals in some way, although most notably as a direct driver for community development. The provision of balanced air service options (from ultra-low-cost carriers to large network carriers) and connectivity to nearly anywhere within the United States in one stop or less attracts not only “big business” into the region but also supports small businesses and the community at large.

RNO Case Study – Full Report

Raleigh-Durham and PST Employment

Case Study – Hub size: medium | Characteristic: sustained growth | Economic strength of region: PST

RDU Case Study

The Raleigh-Durham region in North Carolina is associated with the Research Triangle and a concentration of employment in science and technology. The presence of three major research universities makes education, innovation, and a culture of collaboration key drivers of the area’s development. Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is the second largest airport in terms of passenger traffic in North Carolina behind Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). The RDU catchment area reaches roughly 4 million people. The region is included as a case study to illustrate the relation between growth in air service and increases in economic activity related to the professional, scientific, and technical (PST) sector.

The Raleigh-Durham-Cary Combined Statistical Area (CSA)

Regional Economic Strengths

The region’s population and employment have grown significantly since 2008 and grown nearly twice as fast as North Carolina as a whole. The region’s per capita income is almost 20 percent higher than the statewide average.

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)1,6702,08041025%
Total Employment (000s)1,0831,38029727%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The region’s economy is anchored by several large employment sectors, including a significant public sector presence with local, state, and federal employees. In the private sector, the large sectors (based on total employment in 2019) are PST, health care, and information technology. The PST sector includes services like architecture, engineering, and scientific research (e.g., life sciences, nanotechnology, and biotechnology).

Changes in Air Service

RDU Air Service Overview
Changes in Capacity Offered, 2008 to 2019
Source: Diio Schedules

Passenger activity at RDU has grown significantly since 2008 and traffic reached an all-time high in 2019. Since Delta Air Lines classified it as a “focus city,” RDU has become one of the carrier’s largest non-hub operations. The number of nonstop destinations grew from 50 in 2008 to 57 in 2019, including two European destinations—London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG). RDU’s 2019 international service included Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and Montreal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL) along with Cancun and multiple Caribbean locations. Total seat capacity has grown since 2012.


The growth in new destinations and increased capacity to major markets have manifested in a robust, continuous improvement in air connectivity provided by RDU to the regional economy over the past several years. Since 2015, connectivity has grown by 36 percent (or an average rate of +8 percent per annum). This was driven in large part by expanded connectivity to western hubs like Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as the introduction of service to Paris in 2016.

Analysis of Changes in Air Service and Economic Activity

RDU Employment and O&D Traffic
Relationship Between Regional Employment and Total Origin and Destination (O&D) Passenger Traffic

Total airport origin and destination (O&D) traffic is highly correlated with PST employment in the region. As PST employment rises, so does the volume of O&D activity. Similarly, high correlations occur with other aviation-reliant industries. However, correlation does not equate to causation.

Connecting Air Service and Changing Regional Economic Activity

RDU has not typically involved the community in creating its air service development goals. The airport chooses instead to inform the community of its goals based on a strategy developed internally. RDU is striving to create a model in which it identifies the needs of the community prior to developing an air service development strategy.

Regional Stakeholders and Air Service Interests

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) cites the vibrant regional economy and robust air service offering as key attributes for retaining local talent and attracting investment in the region.

RDU’s communications team and CEO coordinate all external outreach to community stakeholders. They believe in forging relationships with local partners and aim to capture the community sentiment regarding air service needs. In addition to EDPNC, RDU works with other local organizations such as the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, area chambers of commerce, the local convention and visitor bureaus, and Raleigh Economic Development and Innovation to connect with corporate organizations. Many market pushes have come from the community, where the community communicates that business ties exist, and there is a need for service.

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

The State of North Carolina published an economic impact assessment in January 2021 and found that RDU accounted for $15.15 billion in total economic output, $518.3 million in state and local taxes, $3.5 billion in personal income, and 99,335 jobs. The airport suggests that analyses on the possible economic impact of new air service (e.g., the economic impact of a new nonstop international flight, including the generation of tax revenues to local and state governments) may have more credibility and be more influential if they are completed or sponsored by organizations separate from the airport. Such analyses could be useful in helping to convince businesses and other organizations to invest in efforts to attract new air service.

RDU Case Study – Full Report

Greater Miami: International Air Service for Regional Development

Case Study – Hub size: large | Characteristic: international service

MIA Case Study

Miami International Airport (MIA) is the largest airport in Florida and a hub for American Airlines. Owned by the Miami-Dade County government and operated by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, MIA offers more flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than any other U.S. airport. It is the country’s third-busiest airport for international passengers and is the top U.S. airport for international freight. The Miami region is included as a case study because of its international operations and the related regional economic activity.

The Greater Miami Region Including Nearby Airports

Economic Strengths

The Metro Miami region is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States. The region has undergone significant growth since 2008. Employment growth in the region is especially noteworthy. Total employment increased by more than 1 million (29 percent). According to the U.S. Cluster Mapping Project, for the period 1998–2018, private non-agricultural employment growth in the region averaged 4.14 percent annually—the fastest growth in the country. The U.S. national average was 0.96 percent.

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)6,0816,89080913%
Total Employment (000s)3,5494,5851,03629%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

Like many large urban areas, the region’s economy is diversified. In 2019, the largest employment sectors were health care, retail and accommodations, and food services. However, from 2008 to 2019, several sectors grew at rates far above the regional average. These sectors tend to be reliant on air service.

All nonfarm
private employment
Real estate, rental, and leasingProfessional, scientific, and technicalFinance and insuranceManagement of companies

Foreign Direct Investment

The Miami-Dade area is home to approximately 1,300 multinational companies, of which more than 500 are headquartered outside of the United States. These companies cover more than 50 nations in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data show that for Florida as a whole, employment in multinational enterprises rose 40 percent from 2008 to 2018 (the latest available data), with the fastest growth in the professional, scientific, and technical (PST) and real estate sectors.

Air Service and Connectivity

From 2008 to 2019, total passenger traffic increased by more than 10 million (31 percent), rising from 32.5 million to 42.7 million. Much of that increase can be attributed to local rather than connecting traffic. Of MIA’s total traffic, the percentage represented by origin and destination (O&D) traffic rose from 59 percent to 67 percent. In addition, the balance of traffic shifted toward being more international. In 2010, the ratio of MIA’s domestic to international enplanements was 53:47. By 2019, it had become 51:49. In 2019, MIA ranked 3rd among U.S. airports for international passengers, behind New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

MIA Air Service Overview
MIA Air Service Overview

MIA has exceptional strengths with cargo and freight operations. During 2018, MIA handled 79 percent of all air imports and 77 percent of all air exports between the United States. and the Latin American/Caribbean region. In 2019, it ranked first in international freight and third in total cargo (freight and mail) among U.S. airports.

MIA Connectivity
MIA Connectivity

MIA is the nation’s international gateway to the Southern Hemisphere and offers more flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the United States. MIA has experienced steady incremental growth in air connectivity in most years over the past decade. Between 2008 and 2019, connectivity at MIA (domestic and international) grew at an average rate of 2.6 percent per annum.

Changes in Air Service and Employment

MIA Employment and O&D Traffic
MIA Employment and O&D Traffic

Continued growth and improvement in connectivity also facilitate economic growth. MIA’s O&D traffic is highly correlated with total local employment. The correlation coefficient between the two is 0.98. However, correlation does not establish causation. That is, it is not evident whether rising total employment levels lead to more air traffic or whether more air traffic leads to more total employment.

The correlation between air service and employment remains exceptionally high when employment is restricted to those sectors that are more “aviation-reliant,” such as information technology, finance and insurance, real estate, PST, and management of companies. These are among the sectors showing the greatest growth from 2008 to 2019.

Stakeholder Perspectives on Contributions of Air Service to Economic Development

MIA has strong relationships with at least two of the major regional economic stakeholders in the region, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Beacon Council, a public-private partnership that is the official economic development organization for Miami-Dade County. The Chamber has a seat on all of MIA’s working committees to ensure that the voice of the business community is present and heard. The Beacon Council focuses on seven target industries that are highly reliant on air service, including banking and finance, technology, life sciences, and trade and logistics.

MIA Case Study – Full Report

Huntsville’s Cargo and Freight Operations Support Regional Economic Development

Case Study – Hub size: small | Characteristic: cargo / freight

HSV Case Study

The Huntsville metropolitan area is located in North Alabama approximately 200 miles west of Atlanta and 120 miles south of Nashville. The region is served by Huntsville International Airport (HSV). This region is included as a case study because of its cargo and freight activities.

The Huntsville Region

Regional Economic Strengths

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)5546247013%
Total Employment (000s)3443884513%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The region has undergone significant growth in population and employment since 2008, outpacing the growth of Alabama as a whole. Both population and employment in the area have risen by 13 percent since 2008, while Alabama’s population has risen by 4 percent, and employment has risen by 6 percent.

The region is a center of aerospace-related activities. Huntsville is the home of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Marshall Space Flight Center, and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command is headquartered at Redstone Arsenal. Large private companies in the area include Boeing, Dynetics, and Northrup Grumman. The U.S. Cluster Mapping Project notes that the area’s economy features multiple tradeable clusters that are among the top performers in the country, including information technology and analytical instruments; communications equipment and services; and marketing, design, and publishing.  

Considering the NASA and military facilities in the region, it is not surprising that the public sector has a large share of total employment. In the private sector, the largest industry sector was professional, scientific, and technical services (PST) followed by manufacturing. Since 2015, PST employment has grown by almost 8,700 (21 percent), and employment in manufacturing has grown by 4,000 (10 percent).

The Airport and Its Services

Air cargo plane at HSV
Air Cargo Plane at HSV

HSV is a small-hub airport that handled a record 725,000 enplaned passengers in 2019. More importantly for this case study, HSV’s air cargo tonnage in 2019 totaled 88,769 metric tons, of which 81,740 metric tons (92 percent) were carried on international flights. The airport authority also operates the International Intermodal Center (air cargo and rail cargo) with Norfolk Southern and a Foreign Trade Zone. HSV enjoys robust international air cargo service thanks to the operations of DSV Panalpina (DSV), a Danish transport and logistics company offering transport services globally. Since then, the DSV forwarder-controlled freighter network at HSV has grown to include Brazil, Hong Kong, and Mexico using leased and chartered freighters. HSV’s cargo facilities have grown with the freighter operation—extending runways, expanding taxiways, and building cargo facilities that now total more than 300,000 square feet, including multiple temperature-controlled facilities.

More than 30 years after its inception, the DSV forwarder-controlled freighter network continues to operate high levels of cargo service while carrying a diverse array of commodities and adding new customers. The DSV network at HSV has become a model for other alternative cargo gateway airports to emulate even as it continues to evolve and innovate.

Air Cargo Linkages to Regional Economic Development

Interviews with HSV management revealed strong linkages between the airport’s cargo operations and regional economic development. Existing business retention and new business attraction can be traced back to the presence of convenient, reliable air cargo services.

HSV’s business development team has cultivated a cooperative environment within the region where the macro-benefits of economic development outweigh territorial self-interests, producing results for the broader economic region.

Two examples of linkages between HSV’s air cargo services and the economic development of the automotive industry in the region are the opening of a new Mercedes plant and a joint venture of Toyota and Mazda that resulted in the construction of a large manufacturing plant. Both are supported by HSV air cargo.

Regional Stakeholder Support of the Airport and Its Contributions to Economic Development

The Huntsville Chamber of Commerce recognizes the value of HSV’s nonstop international cargo flights to Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Sao Palo. The Chamber’s annual report highlights the number of jobs created and capital investments, including those tied to foreign-based companies with locations in the region. The Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization notes the economic contribution of the airport by referencing the connections with international markets:

The presence of many international companies has been a driving force in continuous economic growth in North Alabama. The Jetplex Industrial Park is home to LG Electronics, the first Korean manufacturing operation located in North America. In Madison County alone, there are over 60 foreign-based corporations. These include representation from Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

TRIP 2045, City of Huntsville Area Planning Division and the Huntsville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, May 2020, pp. 96–98.

HSV Case Study – Full Report

Greensboro Piedmont Triad International Airport: Expanding Traffic in the Shadow of Larger Regions

Case Study – Hub size: small | Characteristic: multi-airport region | Economic strength of region: transportation and logistics

GSO Case Study

The Piedmont Triad Region (the Region or the Triad) in north-central North Carolina encompasses 12 counties and is anchored by three cities: Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. The area’s combined statistical area (CSA) is the 33rd largest in the country. Greensboro is the largest of the three cities. Home to approximately 1.7 million, the Region is served by Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO or the airport). To the southwest is the larger Greater Charlotte area, home to nearly 2.8 million and the location of one of American Airlines’ hubs, Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). To the east is the Raleigh-Durham area, with a population of about 2.1 million, and home to the state’s capital and Research Triangle Park, served by Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). Based on passenger traffic, GSO is the third largest airport in North Carolina after CLT and RDU.

The Piedmont Triad Region in North-Central North Carolina

The Region and Its Economy

Since the mid-1900s, the Region’s economy has evolved from being centered largely on tobacco, textiles, and furniture to featuring a blend of trade, manufacturing, and service businesses, as well as its universities and colleges. Local industry is characterized by the production of machinery, electronics equipment, textiles and apparel, tobacco, and the provision of financial services. The region has significant strength in economic activity relating to transportation. The Piedmont Triad is home to nearly 200 aerospace companies.

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)1,5651,6891248%
Total Employment (000s)923982596%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The Airport, Its Services, and the Shadow Cast by CLT and RDU

GSO generally defines its catchment area to include 12 counties in north-central North Carolina. However, the airport faces significant challenges in attracting and retaining passengers due to the region’s proximity to CLT and RDU. The major drivers of consumers’ air service decisions are price and service levels (e.g., flight frequency or timing, aircraft size, and airline of preference). Consumers in the Triad take advantage of flight opportunities not only at GSO but at the other two major airports.

Passenger traffic at GSO is primarily origin and destination (O&D) traffic. Since the drop in 2009, O&D traffic has generally recovered, rising from 1.4 million to 2.1 million.

GSO Change in O&D Passengers
Change in O&D Passengers at GSO

The airport has experienced a slow return of airline capacity to 2008 levels in the last 11 years. In 2019, GSO nearly regained all the capacity that it had provided in 2008. Available capacity changed little between 2010 and 2017. Since then, capacity increased by 24 percent.

GSO is the largest cargo airport in North Carolina based on landed weight. In 2019, total landed cargo and freight weight at GSO exceeded that at CLT by almost 20 percent and at RDU by nearly 70 percent.

Connectivity Analysis

GSO Connectivity
IATA Connectivity Index for GSO, indexed against 2008 (2008 = 100)
Source: InterVISTAS analysis of Innovata schedule data from Diio Mi

Changing economic conditions and airline mergers (Delta Air Lines/Northwest Airlines, United Airlines/Continental Airlines, and American Airlines/US Airways) had a profound impact on consumer choice and connectivity at GSO, with reduced service suppressing connectivity below pre-Recession levels. However, the recovery in connectivity at GSO has been slightly faster than that of overall seat capacity and passenger traffic. Connectivity returned to 2008 levels by 2018 and continued to grow, driven by expanded capacity to major hubs like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). As of 2019, GSO’s connectivity was 14 percent higher than 2008 levels.

Analysis of Air Service and Economic Variables

In the Triad, passenger traffic is relatively highly correlated with total regional employment. This means that as one variable rises, so does the other. As total regional employment increases, total O&D traffic at GSO also increases. However, correlation does not establish causation. It is not evident that changes in employment necessarily lead to or cause changes in O&D activity. The opposite could equally be true; changes in O&D traffic could bring about changes in regional employment.

The relationship between total regional employment and total O&D passenger traffic is positive, and the strength of the statistical correlation (R2 = 0.747) is relatively strong.[1]

GSO Employment and O&D Traffic
Relationship Between Total Regional Employment and Total O&D Passenger Traffic

Air Service Development and Regional Stakeholders

One key regional stakeholder is the Piedmont Triad Partnership (PTP), whose primary objective is to promote prosperity, growth, and economic development in the region. The PTP collaborates with the airport to support regional economic development initiatives. The PTP’s sectors of interest include biomedical and life sciences, technology, transportation and logistics, and automotive manufacturers, all of which rely on air service offerings in the region for their travel needs. Additionally, the region supports an economic development strategy centered on aviation and aerospace. GSO invested in the regional economy with the GSO aerospace “Mega site.”

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

North Carolina conducted a state-wide study of the economic contribution of its airports. The report covered airport operations and estimated that GSO contributed

  • 30,015 jobs
  • $1.6 billion in personal income
  • $8.6 billion in economic output

The airport uses the information from economic impact studies in communications with regional stakeholders; local, state, and federal government officials; and businesses it seeks to attract. GSO and other airports used the information to persuade the state of North Carolina to revise the formula it uses to distribute aviation grants. The airports argued that the economic impact based formula better represents the total value of the airport to the state.

GSO Case Study – Full Report

[1] The correlation strengthens to 0.808 if the results from 2008 are excluded. Traffic then was affected by the presence of SkyBus, which ceased operations that year.

Green Bay and Competing Against Other Nearby Airports

Case Study – Hub size: non-hub | Characteristic: multi-airport region

GRB Case Study

Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) serves Northeastern Wisconsin. The City of Green Bay, on the western side of Lake Michigan, is the population and employment center of the metropolitan region, known for being home to its famous National Football League team and historic manufacturing base. The region is an example of one within a fragmented market where the population and total regional employment have remained relatively stable over time.

The Green Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)/Combined Statistical area (CSA)

The Region and Its Economic Strengths

The Green Bay-Shawano CSA is in the eastern part of Wisconsin, approximately 130 miles north of Milwaukee. From 2008 to 2019, the population in the region grew by 6 percent, faster than that of either the state of Wisconsin (3.3 percent) or the Great Lakes states (1.4 percent). Similarly, employment growth in the region exceeded that of the state.

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)348.6368.419.86%
Total Employment (000s)229.9244.714.86%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The region’s economy is anchored by its manufacturing sector, which employed over 30,000 in 2019 (almost 15 percent of total nonfarm employment). Of the region’s 30 largest employers, 12 are manufacturers. Besides paper and packaging industries, other sectors with substantial employment included health care, finance and insurance, construction, and transportation.

The figure shows the location of the airport in the region, the geographic area within a 1-hour drive of the airport, and the locations of the largest manufacturing businesses within that drive time.

GRB Drive Time and Manufacturing Firms
Manufacturing Firms Within a 1-Hour Drive of GRB

The Airport and Its Service

GRB shares the Northeast Wisconsin air travel market with several other airports. These include Appleton International Airport, 33 miles to the south, and Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, 127 miles away. A 2019 study estimated that the air service catchment area generated 1.2 million origin and destination (O&D) passengers, but that GRB captured only 16 percent of that traffic. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), 194 miles away, captured almost 40 percent of the traffic. In 2019, GRB posted a total of just under 700,000 O&D passengers.

The combination of relatively modest growth in market size, airline industry consolidation, and the proximity of alternative airports has resulted in an overall decline in capacity offered at GRB since 2008. In 2019, the total departure capacity at GRB was 33 percent lower than in 2008.

GRB Capacity
Changes in Flights and Available Seat Capacity
Source: Diio Schedules


Connectivity at GRB in 2019 was 12 percent lower than in 2008. This decline was not as steep as the decline in seat capacity (–33 percent), because GRB retained service to several key national hubs including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), ORD, Minneapolis-St Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport (MSP), and  Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).

All else being equal, each additional seat on flights to those airports yields a higher level of connectivity than seats on flights to smaller airports with fewer onward destinations. This is why, for instance, connectivity grew by 24 percent between 2012 and 2014 even though the total seat capacity remained about the same. Between 2012 and 2014, GRB lost capacity to MSP and DTW and all services to Cleveland, but gained service to ATL, which is among the most connected airports in the world. That boosted GRB’s connectivity. In more recent years, expanded capacity to ORD as well as the reintroduction of service to Denver International Airport (DEN) has improved GRB’s connectivity. Overall, GRB’s connectivity rebounded 22 points from the worst of the post-Great Recession downturn in 2012.

GRB Connectivity
IATA Connectivity Index for GRB, Indexed Against 2008 (2008 = 100)
Source: InterVISTAS analysis of Innovata schedule data from Diio Mi

Changes in Air Service and Economic Activity

GRB’s O&D traffic does not appear to be correlated with total local employment. Changes in one variable do not appear to be associated with changes in the other. That is, the total amount of O&D traffic at the airport does not appear to be related to total employment in the MSA/CSA or vice versa. A similar absence of relationship exists between total O&D traffic at GRB and the region’s overall population levels. Changes in the population base have not translated into changes in traffic at the airport.

Air Service Goals Tied to Business Activity

The Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce has an arm devoted to economic development. The Chamber’s strategic plan has 11 initiatives that are geared toward supporting economic development in the area, with one focused on enhancing transportation access and connectivity. Given the region’s economic strength in manufacturing and the need to connect products to markets, the Chamber recognizes the criticality of transportation access and connectivity.

From the perspective of foreign direct investment, Canada and Italy are the top two countries with investment in the area. Firms that have located in the area cut across several different industries, including manufacturing, paper products, food processing, and shipbuilding. These companies view the area as a prime location in which to build supply chain redundancy for their operations.

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation performed an economic impact study of the commercial service airports in the state in 2017. GRB was estimated to generate $242.9 million in economic output in Brown County. The study estimated that the airport generated 1,633 jobs, with $68.8 million in labor income in Brown County. However, the true economic impact of commercial aviation extends beyond the airport boundaries, as aviation is a critical element of the economic activity of multiple industry sectors.

GRB Case Study – Full Report

Fresno, California: A Small Hub with Growing Air Service and Economic Activity

Case Study – Hub size: small | Characteristic: sustained growth

FAT Case Study
Fresno Airport

Fresno is in the Central Valley of California, one of the world’s most important and productive agricultural areas. It is the closest city to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon national parks. The metropolitan area anchored by Fresno is the third largest in northern California, after the San Francisco Bay area and the Greater Sacramento region. Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) is the only commercial service airport in the region. The region is a case study because it is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-defined small hub and has shown overall growth in air traffic over the period 2008–2019.

The Fresno Combined Statistical Area (CSA)

The Region and Its Economy

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)1,2101,309998%
Total Employment (000s)5606569617%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The Fresno-Madera-Hanford CSA in California’s Central Valley is within the most productive agricultural region in the United States. The region’s population and employment have grown moderately since 2008.

While the area features approximately three times the national average of farm employees, total farm employment in the region declined during the period 2008–2019. However, the recent expansion of food processing, packaging, wholesaling, and agri-food manufacturing has built higher value-added processes on the area’s core agricultural base. The area has seen strong growth in health care employment, as well as growth in hospitality-related employment and administrative and support services. Employment in transportation and warehousing industries has nearly doubled since 2008 as the region positioned itself as a growing logistics and manufacturing center.

Overview of the Airport and Its Air Service

FAT capacity update
FAT Capacity

FAT is the primary passenger and commercial service airport for California’s San Joaquin Valley. Due to FAT’s relative geographical isolation, there are no competing commercial service airports within its primary catchment area. There are no other commercial airports within a 3- to 4-hour drive. FAT saw its total (inbound and outbound) passenger numbers increase from 1.2 million passengers in 2008 to nearly 1.9 million in 2019, growing at an annual rate of 4.4 percent.

The number of flights generally declined between 2008 and 2015, in line with broad industry trends of upgauging aircraft and consolidation, but increased afterward. While available seat capacity varied between 2008 and 2015, it then increased by 45 percent.


FAT Connectivity
FAT Connectivity

“Connectivity” generally means the ability to reach a wide range of places in a short amount of time. Connectivity creates efficiencies that make firms more productive, which in turn attracts more businesses that have their choice of locations.

Changes in connectivity at FAT can have notable impacts on how quickly and conveniently Fresno and the Central Valley area can be reached and how local businesses can access outside markets.

Connectivity at FAT in 2019 was 42 percent higher than it was in 2008. While the airport experienced a slight dip in connectivity after 2008, due to a decline in seat capacity, connectivity grew after 2015 when capacity was added to the major hubs at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW),  San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and Denver International Airport (DEN), and service was added to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

Air Service and Economic Activity

FAT Correlation Analysis
FAT Correlation Analysis

FAT’s origin and destination (O&D) traffic is highly correlated with the total regional employment. The figure summarizes the relationship between total O&D traffic and regional employment. The correlation coefficient is 0.915.  However, correlation does not establish causation. That is, because two matters are correlated does not mean that increases in one causes or leads to increases in the other, or vice versa. It is not evident whether rising total employment levels lead to more air traffic or whether more air traffic leads to more total employment.

Stakeholder Perspectives on the Contributions of Air Service 

The interests of the business community and economic development authority in the region are represented by the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. The Fresno EDC is responsible for bringing in new business to the county and works closely with the airport to discuss air service goals (e.g., new markets that would enhance connectivity). The Fresno Chamber works to promote and support the success of the regional business community through effective advocacy, education, and relationship building. 

Community stakeholders recognize that regional economic goals are tied to transportation and aviation. They work together to promote solutions to the region’s transportation needs. In April 2021, the community succeeded in convincing Southwest to enter the market, an effort that took 10 to 15 years. 

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

According to a 2018 economic impact study, FAT generated an overall economic output of $426 million. The airport uses its economic impact study in its marketing material, in messaging to stakeholders and elected officials at all levels (federal, state, county, and local), and in discussions with federal partners such as the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, FAA, and the Department of Defense.

FAT Case Study – Full Report

Des Moines, Iowa: Air Service and Economic Activity Related to Finance and Insurance

Case Study – Hub size: small | Economic strength of region: finance and real estate

DSM Case Study

Des Moines is the capital of Iowa and has a strong, diversified economy. The region is also a major center of the U.S. insurance industry and is known for its global financial services and publishing business base. It is included as a case study because of that consideration.

Des Moines Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)/Combined Statistical Area (CSA)

Regional Economic Strengths

The region’s economy is anchored by several large employment sectors. As the capital of Iowa, the region has a significant public sector presence, which includes the large number of workers associated with education, especially because of the presence of Iowa State University in Ames. In addition to the concentration of insurance and financial services in the region, other key industries include advanced manufacturing, agricultural-bioscience, data centers, logistics, and technology. The region’s population and employment have grown moderately since 2008, but far faster than the Iowa statewide averages. The region’s per capita income is also higher than the Iowa average.

20082019Change #Change %
Population (000s)76187811715%
Total Employment (000s)5336047113%
Income per Capita ($)$40,919$53,249$12,33030%
Number of Establishments2027736%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

Overview of the Airport and Its Services

Des Moines International Airport (DSM) is the largest airport in Iowa. DSM estimates that its catchment area encompasses a population base of 3.4 million annual passengers. DSM’s air service goals focus on underserved markets. The focus for larger carriers is upgauging and increasing frequencies on existing routes.

From 2008 to 2019, origin and destination (O&D) traffic rose by 75 percent. The number of available seats rose by 452,862 (34 percent), equivalent to an extra 1,200 seats per day. In 2019, the airport set a new annual passenger record: 2.9 million people traveled through the airport.

DSM O&D and Onboard Passengers


The growth in capacity, specifically to major national hubs, has enabled continued improvement in air connectivity. Between 2008 and 2019, the Des Moines region’s connectivity grew by 36 percent (or an annual average rate of 2.8 percent). The trend in connectivity at DSM is highly correlated with growth in total seat capacity. DSM increased its air service to national hubs like Charlotte and Philadelphia, facilitating onward connections to a larger number of markets and regions.

Analysis of Changes in Employment and Air Service

DSM’s O&D traffic is highly correlated with employment. The graph summarizes the relationship between changes in total O&D traffic and employment in the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors. As employment increases, total O&D increases. The chart, however, does not prove causation; that is, it is not evident whether rising total employment levels lead to more air traffic or vice versa.

DSM O&D Traffic and FIRE Employment
DSM O&D Traffic and FIRE Employment

Communicating the Airport’s Economic Impact

DSM has used economic impact studies to build support for the airport itself. It allows them to share the value and impact an airport brings. DSM works with stakeholders to help build their story and leverage relationships. DSM noted that economic impact studies—especially those concerning the potential impact associated with a new route (e.g., service to a new hub)—can produce useful and insightful information.  

The airport and regional stakeholders raised concerns when talking about how to persuade stakeholders of the airport’s value to the regional economy. One concern was the amount of time an economic impact study takes, and whether there might be a more efficient way to capture information and better understand it. Economic impact studies also need to better show the links between air service and the business community. Uncovering and clarifying that story would be useful.

Stakeholder Perspectives on Contributions of Air Service

One key stakeholder that represents the interests of the region’s business community and economic development is the Greater Des Moines Partnership (the Partnership). Its efforts to recruit companies and people to work and live in Des Moines rely in part on the range of nonstop flights available. There is substantial business travel within the finance and technology sector, and accessibility is of the utmost importance. With over 80 entities in the insurance field alone, connectivity is very important for business operations.

While DSM does not now offer nonstop international service, it has connectivity options through major hubs such as Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Denver International Airport (DEN), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), and  Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). The Partnership recognizes that growth in air service metrics (passengers, nonstop flights) gives them strong evidence of regional growth and personal travel. The Partnership would like to see further additions to the number of markets served. Regional economic goals are developed by engaging frequently with industry partners and other stakeholders. The Partnership works with chambers of commerce, counties, and cities to advance initiatives and develop goals that serve the community. It measures its progress with the region’s economic structure, health, and vitality by capital investment, job creation, and new business growth. Showcasing DSM’s connectivity is a useful marketing tool to entice companies to locate in the region.

DSM Case Study – Full Report