How consolidation hurt Manchester airport

With fewer major airlines, passenger traffic has dropped by more than half from 2005


The numbers for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport don’t tell a happy tale. Passenger traffic has dropped by more than half in the last 10 years, from a high of 4.3 million in 2005 to just over 2 million last year. This is not reflective on the airport, but rather a national trend in aviation that has sidelined once-thriving secondary airports.

Back when there were more than a half-dozen big carriers, smaller airlines would seek out secondary airports close to major hubs, and offer affordable flights. Southwest perfected this strategy – avoiding the big, costly and crowded major air hubs. But then waves of consolidation reduced the majors to just three: Delta, United and American. And Southwest then took them on head-to-head at major airports like Boston.

This relegated smaller aircrafts to airports like Manchester and T.F. Green in Providence, R.I., and competition at hubs like Boston increased. The result is fares to Manchester ended up being more expensive than to Boston.

Today, Manchester has fewer flights, higher fares and fewer passengers. It
retains its convenience, ease of parking and access. It also remains a vital part of the state’s economy, and flights tend to be busy and in demand because the airlines have not cut service due to a lack of demand – but rather consolidated at their bigger hubs.

Things could be worse. Cities such as Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis were demoted from major hubs amid the waves of consolidation.

Going forward, Manchester’s traffic is likely to stabilize, but luring new carriers will prove a challenge. The possibility of a commuter rail link to Boston could prove crucial, but with new airline startups unlikely anytime soon, consumers will have to choose between the convenience of Manchester and saving a few dollars and driving to Boston Logan. 

Triant Flouris is provost and a professor at Hellenic American University, a New Hampshire-chartered institution that has campuses in Manchester and Athens, Greece.

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