Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Hubs in "The Heart of it All"

Sometimes things pop in to the mind that give one pause, a moment to scratch their heads, reflect a little bit and ask…why is that? One such moment kicked in to my head the other day and that is why no airline has ever successfully operated a hub in the great state of Ohio.

Many will immediately jump and point at Cincinnati as being the lone example but truly successful hubs do not close. In my mind they grow, evolve and cement themselves naturally in to the collective traveling conscious. Despite all efforts to make this happen at “CVG” it never seemed to really catch fire.

But let me not digress. Ohio is a stalwart guardian and contributor to the significant history of this country. It is home to several major corporations, the birthplace of seven presidents and a key bellwether state for every presidential campaign. Nearly 12 million people live in the state while tourists flock its cities for everything from the Soap Box Derby in Dayton and the NFL Hall of Fame Ceremonies in Canton to apple festivals and home games for the Indians, Cavaliers, Bengals, Buckeyes, Reds and Browns. So why have they not been able to hold on to a hub?

Over the years various airlines have built and dismantled large operations at Dayton (Piedmont), Columbus (America West), Cleveland (United and Continental) and Cincinnati (Delta). Cleveland once operated nonstop flights to Hawaii while Cincinnati is clinging to the last handful of flights to Europe. In that time America West and Piedmont were folded in to USAirways who then pitched and later folded its tent at Pittsburgh, United put its eggs into Chicago and Cleveland plays third string in Continental’s world to Houston and Newark.

That leaves Cincinnati. At its peak Delta fielded around 300 flights per day at Northern Kentucky International Airport, not counting service by its regional affiliates. These days one is lucky to count 80 “mainline” Delta flights at a field that had built a fourth runway and new midfield concourses to improve overall operations – read: specifically for Delta. It is an inevitable no-brainer for the new Delta to keep Detroit over the Cincinnati hub.

This column is not generally inclined towards industry watching of this kind as there are plenty of other sites that gleefully live and die by the high drama provided by the airlines. It is nonetheless an interesting irony to me that a key transportation center of the country, laced with interstates, waterways and rail systems linking it to every corner of the country has never produced a sustainable hub of significant size. Ohio has the people, the facilities and the location, key ingredients all, to make a hub work. Sadly, unless a brand new start-up comes along with nation building ambitions, it won’t happen for some time to come.

Gotta go.

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