LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Travel Association will release a report in April detailing the state of U.S. air travel and making recommendations on how to maximize its growth, CEO Roger Dow announced at the Routes Americas conference here last week.
The report, which U.S. Travel is calling its Air Travel Blueprint, has been in the works for six months.
"Everything in the travel industry revolves around the air transport system," Dow said in an interview at the conference. "If we don't have enough seats and markets served, then travel slows down. What we're pushing is pro-connectivity, pro-convenience, pro-traveler."
In an address at the conference, Dow chided officials in Washington for looking at what he said are the wrong airline industry-related issues, such as regulating seat size.
He said what lawmakers and regulators need to look at is ways to expand air service and U.S. air travel connectivity. Dow focused on midsize and small markets in particular. According to U.S. Travel, nearly 60% of U.S. airports have lost connectivity in the last decade as the domestic airline industry has consolidated from 11 primary carriers to just four. Those four: American, Delta, United and Southwest, control approximately 80% of domestic passenger traffic, according to various estimates.
Along with reducing the number of hubs around the country, major airlines have moved toward larger regional aircraft in recent years, thereby sizing themselves out of some of the smallest markets.
U.S. Travel said that two-thirds of U.S. states have seen a connectivity decline since 2007.
The Air Travel Blueprint will touch on some subjects that U.S. Travel has spoken out about frequently, Dow said. For example, it will suggest that the U.S. defend and expand international open skies agreements, an issue that has gained salience since the start of the Trump administration as the legacy carriers Delta, American and United as well as their unions have stepped up their push for sanctions on the Gulf carriers Emirates, Qatar and Etihad for allegedly taking government subsidies.
It will also push for an increase in the $4.50-per-flight segment cap on passenger facility charges, which airports assess on passengers. Airports use that fee to finance improvement projects. Though a passenger facility charge increase has been hotly debated, stakeholders throughout the U.S. air-travel sector say that airport infrastructure is in need of an upgrade.
The blueprint will also broach less commonly discussed ideas. For example, Dow said U.S. Travel will recommend that the federal review process to grant antitrust immunity to airline joint ventures be toughened to benefit consumers. Joint-venture partnerships, under which airlines can plan, market and operate flights in unison, offer carriers an opportunity to bolster service to a specified market. But such alliances can also crowd out competition.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, the DOT approved a Delta/Aeromexico joint venture but rejected an American/Qantas antitrust immunity application, saying the latter partnership would have been too dominant in the U.S.-Australia market.
American and Qantas plan to resubmit that application to the Trump DOT.
The blueprint will also address federal rules that prohibit airports from using their funds to promote the cities they serve and the airlines that fly there.
"It is time to end what I call the politics of subtraction and embrace the politics of addition," Dow told Routes Americas attendees.
The report won't address the pilot shortage that is plaguing U.S. regional airlines, Dow said, though he added that he expects the problem to grow until it affects the major carriers over the next decade.
He noted that previous U.S. Travel white papers have been successful at moving policymakers.
"We recommended trusted-traveler programs before it happened," Dow said.