The Bias of Route Viability Analyses

The last months we worked with two regional airport operators on a route viability analysis both airports see as a exceptionally promising: Saarbrücken (SCN) to Reggio Calabria (REG).

Their problem is that it is rather difficult to get the hard-facts on it. Based on our work with, they thought we might be the right people to look into this.

At first, talking to airline network planners, I was referred to the analysis tool providers. Though interesting, I got the “results” from four of those tools, three “disqualifying” the route, the third one (more correctly) failing with the information of insufficient data. The problem is, that the route in question has never been served before. There are some “comparable” routes, we found the two tools returning results used, from airports in the vicinity of Saarbrücken to Catania (CTA) on Sicily or to Lamezia Terme (SUF) in Calabria.
Then we were referred to the ACI “standard” QSI (Quality Service Indicator), specifying how a route potential is being calculated. There is a very nice introduction to QSI on the website of the North American chapter of ACI Airports Council International. But if you read that introduction, you are going to get very quickly to “factors” and “coefficients”. And that they are variables, subject to interpretation and weighting, they are “relative values”. And while I found my usually very open sources at IATA, OAG and FlightGlobal distinctly tight-lipped, when I called and asked about QSI, they quickly confirmed that their tool follows those principles and how much and why their tool is better than their competitors.

One airline network planning director clearly told me those tools they use, but they are useful only on existing (or to some extend historically existing) routes. As he had provided me his initial impression on that route, I questioned his initial response and he confirmed that they use those tools with an “almost religious” faith. So if they look into a new route, knowing their tools to have a bias towards existing routes, if their tool returns “not viable”, it builds a major obstacle to get them to look into such route.

So we also had a look ourselves into the “route data”, getting statistical data from those other routes from Eurostat (avia_par), the airports, two of the tool providers, as well as three airlines. As discussed in The Numbers Game, we once more were confronted with conflicting data. Public data on Eurostat shows different numbers for outgoing HHN-SUF compared to incoming SUF-HHN. All numbers “close by”, but in most cases, the numbers did not correspond to the other sources! So what “quality” do we talk, if we in a single industry cannot agree to a fixed value?

Okay, so we decided we take the average of the different values we received. Then we compared to the various catchment areas from our analyses, both the pure isochrone-populations as well as our competitive analysis. Where we found once more that the drive-time zones themselves resulted in major offsets, rendering any attempt to interpret the results as useless. On the competitive reach, we found some “trends”, though it showed clearly that the more routes an airport has, the more choice such is given to the traveler, the lower the average choice of a traveler for a specific route. But even with those constraints, looking at the catchment area confirmed potential interest in the route.

More interesting, I found that aside of Eurowings with about 75-80% load factor on their flights, all other airlines operated with load factors of around 80-85% and up to 90% on an annual basis. Such, it seems that overall, there is very high demand for travel between the regions. But the tools disqualify flights. Hmm.

Working on a viability study, other approaches are to look at the regional demand. Where we got confirmed, what we knew before. There are no reasonable statistics on a regional level. Yes, you get all the statistics on a small scale from Saarbrücken to Italy. Or from Reggio Calabria to Germany. Okay on Luxemburg. But is Italy Northern Italy with higher purchasing power, commerce and industry? Or Calabria? Is Germany Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Frankfurt – or Saarland or Saarbrücken? You. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

So yes, we can see how much of the industry is where (percentages), how many “Italians” live in the Saarbrücken region, but without there local research (they have done), we could not know that their “Italians” are mostly from not just Calabria (state) but Reggio Calabria (city)… Whereas we talk about many “2nd generation”, having German passports, not showing up in those “statistics”.

So yes, we did the numbers crunching, but those numbers are to be taking with a big grain of salt. Discussing this with my friend, that afore-mentioned airline network planning director, I could “see” his smile. “You check some basics, to get a feeling and have some numbers to confront the [Powers-That-Be, PTBs] in those regions with. Then you travel there and confront them and learn that all you learned is useless and why. Then you talk to the PTBs and learn if and why they believe it makes sense, you question them from your experience and then you decide if it makes sense to take the risk and fly – or not.” And he referred to my 2012 post on the Crystal Ball and told me that he liked my conclusion in it: “I take a big long stick and grope in the dark. It requires expertise, experience and good guesswork to do something with all that information you get. Good luck is part of the business.”

Not Paid! I keep recommending Connect° from conviction.

Hmmm… It confirms what I recently told the Minister President of Thuringia, discussing on Facebook about population emigration they suffer. Emphasizing the need to better support the airport to attract incoming business and the necessity for scheduled flights, I told him, it is not the airport acquiring airlines, it is the region. As soon as an airline network planner researches Erfurt and finds all the negative buzz about that small airport there, if they hear the PTBs having promoted bus service from Frankfurt when they had a flight connecting them to Munich, when they learn that the state officials and commercial (state-paid) delegations traveled from Berlin or Frankfurt instead, they understand that the people in the region do not support flight services. They’ll look at the story behind the closure of Altenburg. Then they likely look for locations where the PTBs support flights. Politicians, local industry, tour operators, the people and the media. Discounts on landing fees are a minor factor on the cost and risk of an airline operation. (Except for Ryanair). They are an indicator, if the region is willing to support the flights. I am afraid, that Minister President did not understand that, he instantly fell back into the “airport bashing”, questioning, why in the past the airport’s subsidized flight services did not succeed. No, he did not heed my words. In fact, he was prejudiced and simply did not listen but took his “instinctive” fall-back position on “airport”.

Working with small regional airports over the past years, I know many airports heeding such words, their PTBs in strong and unquestioning support of “their” (regional) airport. Who publicly want their airport and want it to succeed. Who fight for it and take a stand in discussions for their airport. And yes, Connect or Routes Europe are places where you can meet and talk to them. Though there I also heard just recently (again) that many airlines are showing interest in the big airports only and the small have trouble getting a time slot to make their case. Where Connect° had the advantage on the small airports.

Coming back to the issue of this post. My airline friend and I discussed for several hours (thank you!). And rather at the end, he emphasized, why he invests only little time in “analyses”. Because all those analyses will promote the big buddies. They will confirm business potential on the large airports with data silos full of supporting statistics. But they will disqualify any of the small airports solely based on the fact that there are no “supportive statistics”. Following our discussion, he wrote me a very short message: “Jürgen, the game is rigged. Your catchment area stuff is the first thing I saw to give me a somewhat unbiased view on smaller airports in years. Those [other] analysis tools are sold to sell us statistics. Stupid network planners and the ones trying to play it safe and by the books, requesting the QSI. It’s why mostly the small airlines, who can’t afford those tools start new routes.” And why he emphasized to me that he and anyone in his team wouldn’t bother about any route viability studies based on the statistical history of the airport, except for an indicator. “If you play it safe, you just follow the crowd.”

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

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Changing Roles

As many of the readers of this blog know, I am somewhat personally attached to that little airport in Central Germany, Erfurt-Weimar.

Last week I was taken into a discussion by Thuringia’s Minister President Bodo Ramelow, about how to stop the down-spiral of emigrating Thuringians. Which reminded me about the likewise discussion we had in 2009 shortly before I joined Erfurt Airport with the task to stop their downward-spiral on their passengers.

Real Life Example

What I was faced with was an extremely negative image of the airport within the region. And a lot of demands on how to do business from amateurs in the industry, politicians, tourist offices, etc.

First day at work, the GM of Tourism Thuringia, Bärbel Grönegres was quoted in the local newspaper (TA, 02Mar09), having visited the United Arab Emirates to promote medical tourism to Thuringia. Having a Munich-Erfurt flight by Lufthansa-Partner Cirrus Airlines at the time, she recommended the Arabs to take a flight to Frankfurt, to be picked up with a bus for a +3 hour tour to Thuringia. Tourism material did not contain reference to the airport. Questioned about the reason, her reply was “Who knows, how much longer we will have that flight”. Ever since, that became a prime example I use for “negative thinking” or “calling for disaster”.

The next winter, the Thuringian Olympic athletes brought home a record number of medals. But at the following ITB, it was more important to promote Franz Liszt, who lived a dozen years in Weimar. The fact that the Russian-Orthodox chapel, Grand Dutchess Maria Pavlovna who’s invitation brought him to Weimar has built and got buried in is under direct protectorate of the Russion Orthodox “pope”, the Patriarch, such making it a pilgrimage site for the Russian Orthodox church has completely failed to trigger any support by Weimar or Thuringia Tourism. Air Berlin reported it to be a “known reason” for a substantial part of their Russian Berlin-passengers to add Weimar to their travel plans.

In order to promote the government-funded route, after fierce discussions, Cirrus Airlines agreed to offer a low-cost ticket at 99€ return, having only about 6€ after the high taxes on the ticket. That offer was made available especially to the Thuringian government offices and the state development agency (LEG). Nevertheless, LEG planned and executed delegations traveling with the train to Berlin to take flights from Berlin, instead of promoting the route. The same also for the ministries and ministers. Even the responsible minister taking flights from Frankfurt and Munich instead of using the PSO-route he signed responsible for. During the months we’ve actively promoted that 99€-fare also to the industry and the travel agencies and also had it largely available, not one of the flights used up the 99€ tickets allocated to them. Being at the verge of a bankruptcy, Cirrus Airlines finally ceased to operate that route in December 2010.

By the time, working with the local industry associations, political parties I have been able to increase the passenger numbers by about 20 percent. In fact, to date, the airport is far from the 320 thousand passengers I left them with. With Weimar being the neighboring but historically better known city internationally, I pushed forward the renaming to Erfurt-Weimar with the attempt to improve the incoming for the airport. Paid almost completely from the limited marketing budget. A strategic decision executed after our parting-of-ways in December 2010 after my two-year contract was not extended in the wake of the retreat of Cirrus Airlines. A strategic decision though made obsolete by the “political” decision by traffic minister Christian Carius to not replace the route as I recommended with an Amsterdam-service. Sad decision indeed, as with our parting ways, the discussions with KLM were simply discontinued (KLM calling my number reached someone speaking German only, I was gone) and despite their interest in a PSO (public service obligation) financial route support, we had discussed flights based on mere startup incentives and marketing support.

Opposing myself ongoing subsidies, to demand a route but to leave the (substantial) risk completely with the airline is neither the answer. Whereas comparing the about airport catchment areas with the data provided by airports we found that data to be completely off-set in a majority of cases. It caused us to make basic data available for free. But if the data provided by the airport is not hard, but guesstimates or outright lies, when the airline starts a flight based on that data, the airline takes the risk. To not only does the airport sneak out of the responsibility, they increase the airlines’ risk – is that a game? Or serious business?

Fraport Bulgaria’s more than doubled “population within two hours” can not result from the “drive time off-sets implied by Fraport Bulgaria investigating the discrepancy.

Changing Roles

Now since I started in aviation 30 years ago, the market has drastically changed. In the good old days, there were (often highly subsidized) “national airlines”, used to promote the country. Back in my early days, the airlines were the executive for the tourist offices and also worked closely with commercial development agencies. But ever since, those national airlines have either adapted or went out of business. The emerging “low cost” airlines virtually evaporated the income of the airlines, competition becoming fierce.

As I keep emphasizing with my updated image of Purchasing Power and Airports, there is a relation between a strong airport and the regional purchasing power. It is indeed a hen/egg issue, but if you are a small airport in a weak region, maybe it makes sense to consider how to attract travel (tourism, commerce) to your region. Not how to drain your region of the money by sending the population to the Mediterranean for vacation, but by having incoming, scheduled services, by adding point-to-point routes and to attract low cost airlines.

If we do not talk about PSO (Public Service Obligation) where the government pays for basic flight services, if you build an airport and wait for airlines to find you, keep on sleeping (and burning money). So if you are a small airport and you have little to no money, what can you do?

Having an airport is not enough any more.

The airport is part of the region’s infrastructure. As such, it needs to be integrated into a political and commercial strategy. Whereas in the example of Erfurt-Weimar, the airport is being kept as a scapegoat, being challenged in one sentence for the aviation noise (a good joke with so few flights) and for not having flights. A political punch-ball.

Other, successful airports like Memmingen in Southern Germany are integrated into and understood as a strategic value for the regional development. In fact, Memmingen is not politico-owned but owned by more than 60 co-owners from the region’s industry. Such, instead of being a scapegoat for political power games, everyone in the region understands the need to actively support the airport. Anyone harassing the airport confronts everyone in the region. A political suicide!

At Erfurt, I was asked to establish flights to Moscow. One company. 10 employees. Even with a small (expensive) 50-seat aircraft and weekly flights only (which are usually not sufficient for commercial demand), we talk about 40 seats by 52 weeks in two directions or 4.160 tickets to sell every year. But for a decent offer that is useful to the industry, you need at least twice weekly flights.

Leaving that task to attract airlines to the airport alone, at the same time running blame games and scapegoating, the airport cannot justify such flight. But what if the state development agency and the chambers of commerce, on demand by the political PTBs (powers-that-be) qualify the demand from all those small and midsized companies? Not on a low-cost, but with reasonable ticket prices. Not at prime time at the maximum risk for the airline. Maybe instead of a weekly, can the region sustain a double or even triple-weekly flight making it interesting for the companies in the region? Are those companies willing to support the launch period by committing to use the flight, even if slightly more expensive than a flight from Frankfurt or Berlin? Keep in mind, the people have to get there, you also pay for gasoline/parking or rail. Transport to those hubs is not free either. And the longer check-in times make them even less attractive, right?

Interesting approach. I’ve talked to several smaller airports where they agreed that their chamber of commerce and regional development agencies “pre-purchased” tickets at the cost of the average ticket price needed to cover the operational cost. Then they to sell it to their members. Not covering the full cost of operations, but simply taking their share of the risk! Why should they not, if they believe in the numbers and data they provide to the airline to promote their business case?

Then talk about Tourism. Given such flight, are the local tourism PTBs ready to promote such flight in the outlying region? What about other promotion? Don’t leave it to the airport! Is there a joint concept by the political PTBs, the state development and commerce PTBs, the tourism PTBs on what flight they want, how they will promote the flights?

“We have an airport”. That’s nice. But not enough.

And for a Minister President even only on a state level? You better think about a strategy. Or close down the airport. Having flight to summer vacation is not enough. It drains money from your region into those destinations. What’s in it for you? Why do you fund an airport? No scheduled services? No incoming? Do your homework.

Changing Roles

It’s no longer the job of the airline to promote your region! They simply don’t have the funds to do that. It’s not their business case.

It is the job of the political, commercial and tourism PTBs to qualify what they finance an airport for and come up with ideas and business cases for airlines to take the risk to fly there. And no, a “business case” is not necessarily paying subsidies. If you have a good business case that the airline will make money on the route by flying paying passengers, I can rest assure you that the airline will prefer that over subsidies that are usually associated to political nightmares.

Compiling sound numbers is a good start… And yeah, I might be willing to help you with that.

Food for Thought!
Feedback welcome…

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My Routes Sales Pitch

A post on ASM VP Nigel Mayes on RoutesOnline triggered this FoodForThought. His thoughts about a how to give the perfect routes presentation … Focusing on data. Which is a perfect example of what you see at Routes and what will not make the difference.

Successful Selling is Emotional

In any given sales training I attended, in many of the keynotes or presentations I gave on the topic, I focus on three facts I can boil down to one:

  1. The Elevator Pitch
  2. Successful Selling is Emotional
  3. What’s your message?

Or in one: What is your USP? The USP is the Unique Selling Proposition. It’s what makes your product different, why someone should choose to buy from you and not your competition. But more important, the new concept of the ESP: The Emotional Selling Proposition!

In my presentations, I never focus on the numbers. Say what? But with you’re crunching numbers big time!!! So what?

I’ve never sold the numbers. Not selling software, nor selling airline tickets, nor selling airports, nowhere. Simply: Nowhere.

Selling is emotional. 10% of the sale is facts. Some say 15% (1/7th). I believe less.

Facts are facts, they either sell on their own, or they don’t. Not much influence on the facts.

When I sold competitive software, the data crunching was important. But not to come with facts, but how to load them emotionally? Because where I sold was, where I could establish the emotional link. Trust. Faith. Sure you got to have your numbers. You got to issue an RFP, very often under legal rules, making sure the procurement team is unbiased and takes what is best for the company. Often under stupid rules like “cheap = best”. You get what you pay for, right? But then, there’s the “finale”. If you’re in the final round, emotions jumps into the game. Suddenly the soft factors get more important. Three finalists competing. All qualified. Who fit’s my need the best???

HAM: Hamburg Airport Marketing
HAM: Hamburg Airport Marketing

The job of the sales manager. Be the face of the company.

There are three phases:

  • Phase 1: Establish the contact
  • Phase 2: Know your [Numbers / Tools / Services]
  • Phase 3: Close the sale.

Phase 1 and 3 are all about emotions. They are about Sales Management. Phase 2 is where the number crunching work is. That’s for your engineers to support your sales manager!

An attractive sales lady or gentlemen without experience, right from university sells mostly to men. Emotional. Good for the initial contact and the closing. In between, you don’t need sales, you need the engineers, the number crunchers. Phase 2 is not “sales”. But I also learned that you better call the graduate not a sales manager but either a junior sales manager or a customer manager. Face to the client. They can learn the process. They should be the face to the client (at all times). They should not be exchanged, or your client looses a big part of his/her emotional bonding to your company. But they must work in tandem with the company’s experts! And they have to learn enough of your product before you remove the “junior”.

Many companies make the mistake. Engineers trying to sell. They go for numbers, technical gadgets, hardly ever they understand the emotions that make the customer buy into them. Do I need to be able to know deicing management or shall I better understand the principles behind it and leave the fine-print to the engineers? Talking to deicing experts with 20 years experience, I caught them with emotion. With emotionally loaded facts. Want to buy? Here’s the dream, the overall picture that I know we can make a reality. Let’s call in the engineers, they can explain you in all detail how the individual puzzle piece works. Want to make the sales manager an engineer? Bad idea. Want to make an engineer a sales manager? Bad idea. Engineers are usually number crunchers. Only very few understand the emotional concepts in selling. Recently, in marketing groups there’s a hype about the step from USP to ESP from the unique to the emotional selling proposition.

shifthappensnarratedThe first-ever post on this blog was Shift Happens. As valid as it ever was! Today, most jobs and products are new. Experience helps to adapt and understand the USP. But being good in Sales & Marketing is not about expertise in the product. It’s about expert in emotional selling proposition!

A friend recently asked me for help on a new start-up. I had a look at their website. I did not understand what they’re doing. I got what business they were in. But what’s their USP? It’s been done by engineers… You got to be one to understand.

So let’s look back at my first three points. Lots of words on the website. But what’s it all about? I didn’t know. So we come down to my first point: The elevator pitch. Can you catch a potential client’s or investor’s interest in the first 30 seconds to two or three minutes you have with him in the elevator? Or on a conference floor? Three sentences. Why should he talk to you? What’s your product, what makes it different? What’s the value? “Return of Investment” is an issue. Emotion is also one! Apple sells more on emotion than anything else! So we’re back on 2.: The emotional side. And come down to the third issue: What’s your message? In three lines or 30 seconds? If you can’t boil your USP down to the elevator pitch, how do you think your prospected clients will ever understand it? If you can do it in 30 seconds, you have 19 minutes to talk about it and bring the emotion home. Okay, realistically you have two to three minutes at a Routes scheduled meeting to bring home the pitch. Rarely at once, beyond 30 seconds the risk to be disrupted increases expotentially

If you focus your sales pitch on “Know your numbers”, you miss out the 90% emotional side of selling.

My advise for airports intending to sell successfully at Routes: What’s your message? Most important thing we did at Erfurt Airport was the image video

No voice. Just music. Emotion! Renaming Erfurt to Erfurt-Weimar? Emotional. Weimar transporting “history” and emotion. Everyone heard about Weimar in history class. What’s “Erfurt”?

2010: Promoting emotionally

The final point I focused on in my presentations and consulting with airports: Focus on incoming! Everybody knows, you know “your local market”. But in aviation, you have two markets. Show you know what attracts people to you. Incoming. No, I never understand how Thuringia Tourism at ITB 2010 could promote Hungarian historic composer Franz Liszt, when they just had a great number of gold medals from the Olympic winter games. The politicos in Erfurt never understood the need to focus on incoming, nor the need to promote emotionally.

Though I should have been warned: On my second day there in March 2009, Thuringia Tourism GM Bärbel Grönegres was in Abu Dhabi and promoted medical tourism there to fly to Frankfurt and get the train or a bus to Thuringia. Instead of the existing flight service via Munich. The state development agency LEG had delegations fly from and to Berlin, with train connection from and to Erfurt. We made a 99€ special available to LEG, which they never made use of. How do you want to sell the flights, if the politicians paying for them don’t use them? Result: Instead of replacing Erfurt-Munich (three hours drive, very good train connection) with the recommended Erfurt-Amsterdam, they simply decided to not extend my contract and terminate scheduled services.

So make sure you have your own PTBs behind you (the powers-that-be). State development, tourism, industry, politicians. And not just because they have to, but because they believe in your sales pitch. It’s a team effort. And a team is not a group of people who must work together, but it’s a group of people who trust each other. Emotion.

Emotions are key to successful selling. If you hire a sales manager, find someone emotional. Someone creative. And don’t make them an engineer, you likely have enough of those already, right?

This just applies as much to Sales people as to engineers…
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Fresh Breeze at Erfurt Airport

ERFMany of you have heard or seen that I became responsible Head of Marketing at Erfurt Airport. It was a very busy first week, we all face ITB next week and sure it is a lot of new faces and there is also a lot to do. This airport is an excellently located international airport in the heart of Germany. As you can see on the image, it is rather modern and supports CAT IIIb Instrument Landing. Air freight facilities as well as the four large car rental firms and a General Aviation Terminal complete the excellent impression.

Addressing the necessity to give the airport a positive reputation and position it in its due place on the map of international aviaiton, the airport has received a new management in the past months: Matthias Köhn has been managing the Kiel Airport before, after a six months transition period he is now the General Manager at Erfurt Airport. The second key position, the Manager Operations (Verkehrsleitung) is taken over by Susann Hörl, before having been General Manager at Jena’s Air Field. With Marketing now in my hands, we have an excellent and competent team to properly address the necessary changes to position Erfurt locally, nationally and internationally as a reliable and valuable partner to airlines, travel managers, travel agencies and all other partners. As this is a long-term, full-time commitment, please see my address changes reflected on the website already and coming up. Pending jobs at Consulting are taken over by excellent partners I have worked with for many years and who are competent in the required jobs. And I am sure that more news will be addressed before the end of the month.

I appologize to the readers, I have no real “Food For Thought” this week. If you have topics you think I shall address, please let me know!

So yes. Food For Thought: What do you wish me to address?

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The Power of Regional Airports

ERFThere was quite some buzz the last weeks as I decided to take over my new job at a regional airport (more details I assume to be allowed to release next Sunday). Aren’t they doomed, especially in today’s crisis?

In addition, the Russian regional airports project develops well, Russia is very well aware of the need of regional airports.

So no. I do not agree. I do see regional airports to prosper. Not with point to point traffic, but feeding into the international hubs. Time remains a necessity. Four hours ground travel time are about the maximum business allows before air travel becomes a business case. Some will find their niche, even maybe a major one as I suggested to the Saratov PTBs as part of my side study on their situation. Which is a good example for other communities and their airports.

I also got the new figures of airport developments this month and I find quite interesting examples where and how airports position themselves. Globalization is here and air travel is vital to many businesses for sheer survival – may it be scheduled, charter or freight!

My example in the past years: Compare sizes of cities in the world with the existing of an airport and air travel. It’s a mutual development. But only cities with an airport having good flight connections nearby prosper. And I started in the business booking VIP passengers from the U.S. on the precedessors of Eurowings and other small airlines – flying little Cessna’s in scheduled service between Frankfurt and Paderborn, Dortmund and other such cities.

Food For Thought…

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