Air Demand in a Dynamic Competitive Context with the Automobile

Airports must contend with a constantly shifting market for air transport services, and this problem is not unique to a particular type or class of airport. Airports that once thrived on feeder flights now find fewer carriers even interested in competing for their local markets. In many cases, the result is a shrinking market, with trips on feeder flights often replaced by auto trips to competing airports. It is clear from recent research that the automobile competes directly with airlines for certain kinds of trips, but relatively little is known about how the choice between airline and automobile travel is made. This is the case both for full trips (auto replaces air for the total trip) and for feeder segments (auto replaces as feeder to more distant airport). Research has been undertaken on the role of rail, for example, as a competitor to air in selected markets (e.g., NCRRP Project 03-02, “Passenger Rail in the Context of Dynamic Travel Markets”), but it is the automobile that is the closest competitor for potential flight patrons, even in the case of very long distance trips where the car is sometimes chosen in spite of major travel time differences. Mode choice decisions are made routinely concerning longer distance trips, with the potential air traveler choosing instead multi-day auto trips—a pattern often referred to as “trip chaining.” Factors such as party size and income interact to make mode selection complicated: a travel party of two may choose air while a travel party of five chooses auto, even for very long distances. A lower income car-owning family may choose to use the car out of necessity, with higher income families having more choices for faster transportation. In the American experience, the auto is often the primary, dominant competitor to air, even for trips of significant length (over 500 miles). In response, a better understanding of the critical factors contributing to mode-choice is needed, both for shorter as well as longer distance travel. There have been many different explanations presented for mode choice behavior based on a range of issues: demographics, security and safety, cost, travel congestion, frequency of service and efficiency, flexibility, consumer perceptions, and others. Understanding how these issues impact mode choice, particularly when comparing airline versus automobile travel, is critical to future policy, marketing, and investment decisions affecting airport infrastructure and services. The objective of the research was to develop an analytical framework and a set of application scenarios to help evaluate the role of the automobile as a competitor to the airlines in intercity travel. This research was aimed at helping airports, airlines, and the broader transportation community understand the competitive nature of airline travel versus automobile travel, and how that competition impacts infrastructure priorities. This research built on past research as well as incorporating new market research about how the intercity traveler makes modal decisions. In addition, this research targeted the practitioner in the field, with relevance to those involved in actual decision making. The product of this research included an evaluation of the analytical framework and a discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the factors considered.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $500000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 03-40

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Aviation Administration

    800 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC  United States  20591

    Airport Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001
  • Project Managers:

    Goldstein, Lawrence

  • Performing Organizations:

    RSG, Incorporated

  • Principal Investigators:

    Coogan, Matt

  • Start Date: 20160714
  • Expected Completion Date: 20190213
  • Actual Completion Date: 20190213
  • Source Data: RiP Project 40177

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01572143
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 03-40
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Aug 1 2015 1:30AM