March 11, 2016


Incentivize It and They Will Come: How Local Governments Are Leveraging Airline Incentive Programs to Grow Air Service


1:40 - 3:00pm


1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village


City officials have long sought to attract air traffic to their airports to stimulate economic development. Following a wave of airline mergers and federal policy guidance on airport and municipally-funded airline incentive programs, a number of large cities and their airports began directly subsidizing airlines through Air Carrier Incentive Programs. Airline incentive programs present a wicked problem for cities: Should a city invest airport and municipal funds into an airline incentive program potentially boosting economic development and providing national and international mobility for residents or invest in alternative economic development strategies? I investigate the scale and scope of the costs and environmental impacts of these incentive programs and explore the urban and airport characteristics that are correlated with successful incentive programs (success being that a new route is added to the airport). I find that the scope of airline incentive programs is significant in terms of air traffic, costs, and emissions. I next find airports with relatively few flights and in relatively small metropolitan areas and airports with a large number of flights in relatively large metropolitan areas are the most likely to have incentive programs and the least likely to have successful incentive programs, indicating that it is both difficult for an airport to build new service and to fill minor service gaps. I also find that cities with the ingredients for a successful incentive program located in megaregions with other large airports have particular difficulty in attracting new flights, indicating that competition within megaregions is particularly fierce as mid-sized cities work to establish themselves through air service. This research is a first step into helping city planners and national aviation planners to clarify their view of aviation: as a tool to boost local economic development or a mode of transportation through which the country is knitted together in a rational way based on cost, access, and environmental sustainability.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Megan S. Ryerson is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of City & Regional Planning and Electrical & Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Ryerson received a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 and a BS in Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. Professor Ryerson’s expertise is in air transportation systems planning, airline operations, and intercity multimodal transportation planning. Professor Ryerson has published over 15 articles investigating the costs and environmental impacts of municipally-funded airline subsidy programs, the environmental impact of airline contingency fueling practices, optimizing aircraft diversions in a climate-impacted future, estimating the spatial differences in human health impacts of aircraft across the U.S., and comparing the environmental impact of aviation and High Speed Rail Systems. She serves on the Board of Advisors of The Eno Center for Transportation, the Program Committee for the International Conference on Research in Air Transportation, two Transportation Research Board committees, and she was recently appointed by the Secretary of Transportation to serve on the Airport Cooperative Research Program Oversight Committee. In 2015 Professor Ryerson was named “Woman of the Year” by the Women’s Transportation Seminar Philadelphia Chapter.

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