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Friday, July 22, 2011


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Air travel is one of the most heavily concentrated things in big cities. Indianapolis metro is about 25% of the state's population, but IND accounts for about 70% of all air passengers in the state. That's the highest market share for any aspect of Indianapolis within the state that I've ever seen. High speed rail would be similar if not higher in many places, hence we can see that it's prospects aren't bright. (PS: It strikes me as infinitely more likely that the government will subsidize air travel to these small locations than that it will make the infrastructure investments needed to make its large metros competitive).

Another aspect of this same trend you might find of interest. After Borders closed in downtown Indianapolis, the Financial Times ceased print distribution in the central business district. At least I couldn't find one no matter where I looked last time I was there, and the stores told me they no longer carried it. (I'm told you can still buy it in suburban locations). I realize digital means this is less of a loss, but still it's troubling. Here's a downtown of a region of 1.7 million people, the largest city in its state and something like #32 in America, now cut off from part of the global conversation. Meanwhile in Chicago I can buy the FT print edition even at the small convenience store just down the street from my place in West Lakeview.

I'm not sure direct air service is essential to the success of a global enterprise or to the residents of small cities. Consider that Cummins has managed to grow and control its global diesel empire from Columbus, Indiana...a small city without commercial air service. It's 58 miles or so from there to Indianapolis International.

It is also 58 miles from Thief River Falls to GFK in Grand Forks, ND ("North Dakota's busiest commercial airport" per its website) from which there are five daily flights on Delta.

In this light, I'd have to assert that Delta pulling out of Thief River Falls might be both a rational choice for the airline and not that big a loss for the town.

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