America West's decision to pull the Columbus hub was mostly likely a mix of the after-effect of September 11 and the then-impending war in Iraq, combined with their new fare structure and Delta's strong-arm tactics to further weaken HP
As I've said before, prior to September 11, 2001, the hub was going to be expanded greatly. The plans were already drawn up for 6 more regional jet bridges to be implemented in Concourse B, and flights were supposed to be boosted eventually up to 90 daily flights.
In the time between September 11, 2001 and February 11, 2003 (the day America West announced the hub closure), there really wasn't any indication that the hub might be closing until a month or so before the announcement. But many underlying aspects signaling the doom of the hub were apparent
First off, it is VERY clear now that America West's new fare structure does not support the continues use of small regional gets (50 seats and less). Mr. Doug Parker has claimed before that the CRJs (200 and 700) do not work in the America West system, hence why America West has dumped the CRJ-700, increased CRJ-900 utilization, and lessened the number of CRJ-200s in operation. Since HP
operation proportionally was very RJ
-heavy, full planes were not guaranteeing profitable flights with the new fare structure.
Secondly, the airline industry was again in a state of disarray in the weeks before the conflict in Iraq. Airline stocks were back to near-Sept. 11 lows and the future was cloudy at best. I would think that this also prompted the airline's decision to not take the financial risk, and go ahead and shut the hub down.
Thirdly, Delta sensed blood in the water in Columbus, and quietly ramped up and stream-lined operations in CMH
. Delta had always been neck-and-neck with America West in Columbus, and this time was ready to deal the final blow. Delta initiated service to Washington National from Columbus, which had traditionally been a good route for America West. Delta also started a codeshare agreement with Chautauqua Airlines, which also served as America West Express at the time, and place RJs on the Florida route. This trumped America West's service by offering double the frequency HP
offered to Orlando and flying no empty first class seats, whereas HPs Airbusses to Florida left with first class occupied either by upgrade recipients or non-revvers.
Given these factors, I do think the main one that lead to the hub's demise was the new fare structure. Yes, the hub consisted mostly of RJ
flights. But proportionally, it was no different to Continental's Cleveland hub. Apply the same fare structure in CLE
and you have the exact same dilemma as was faced in CMH
, but with more flights. That and America West truly had no interest in maintaining their presence out east. Certain routes such as BWI
, and YYZ
filled consistently, but instead of focusing in on the faults and repairing them, they decided to abandon the investment altogether.
Lastly, given today's airline system in the United States, I quite plainly do not think that a full-fledged hub in Columbus could work. HOWEVER, I am positive that a sort of "focus city," capitalizing on high O/D markets from Columbus with a strictly low fare attitude, could definitely work. My example would be ATA's operations in Indianapolis. Demographically and geographically, Indianapolis and Columbus are VERY similar cities: both have a metro population of roughly 1.8 million, both are rapidly growing new cities, both are state capitals, in the center of their respective states, and are located in the Midwest. While ATA might not have a full-fledged hub in IND
, they have an excellent route system from IND
, flying to high O/D destinations such as Los Angeles, Cancun, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and New York with all coach 737-800 and 757-200/300 aircraft. I have no doubt in my mind that a similar set up could work in Columbus. There just needs to be an airline that is willing to invest in such an endeavor.