The United States is committed to investing in its airports through modernization and improving air traffic control infrastructure as it prepares for future growth. Many of the top airports for growth in the US have already embarked on, or are planning major construction and renovation programs, with ongoing government funding of airport facilities helping fund critical improvements at airports of all sizes. Looking at FAA reports of market drivers for the decades ahead, it's clear that major growth opportunities exist at hubs across the United States.

Skyscanner has analyzed these numbers and identified four airports, based on passenger preferences and our advanced prediction models, where we believe there are particularly strong commercial opportunities for airlines to add non-stop services or increase their frequency of flights, taking advantage of both the growth rates and the infrastructural support that these airports will offer.

In this report we examine these growth forecasts, and present the case for why we believe Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Seattle airports merit particular consideration from airlines looking to capture the US traveller of tomorrow.

In its Aerospace Forecast for 2017-2037, the FAA identifies three distinct trends for commercial airlines which will define the future of air travel in the U.S.: “(1) industry consolidation and restructuring; (2) continued capacity discipline in response to external shocks, and (3) the proliferation of ancillary revenues.”                                              

The Administration expects that the recent acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines might make further airline consolidation unlikely, with future focus on competition between the six largest airlines which control 85% of the domestic market, measured by passenger revenue miles. Therefore, the primary factor now driving competition is the presence in the market of restructuring, reports the FAA

“One of the most striking outcomes of industry restructuring has been the unprecedented period of capacity discipline, especially in domestic markets”
— FAA Report, 2017
                    

While domestic airline ASMs (Available Seat Miles) had increased at an average annual rate of 4% percent a year between 1978 and 2000, airlines have moderated their capacity in recent years, adjusting for market shocks of September 11, 2001 and also to the global recession and sharp rise in oil after 2007. But the adjustments also reflect a shift in business strategies by U.S. airlines to ensure greater financial stability through good times and bad. Domestic ASMs have increased at an average rate of 2.0% per year since and are up just 4.1 percent when compared to 2007.     

The FAA expects domestic enplanements to increase from 589 to 639 million between 2017 and 2021 on mainline carriers and from 152 to 165 million enplanements on regional carriers.

To accommodate this growth, airlines are also investing heavily in aircraft. States the FAA in its projections that:

 

Accommodating all of these passengers with a greater variety of services and keeping all of these aircraft flying smoothly makes the planned improvements to airport facilities and to air traffic management critical.

                                               

In its Terminal Area Forecast Summary for 2016-2045, the FAA presents key statistics on the airports which will support the bustling U.S. airline market of tomorrow:

                   

While the whole of the U.S. market is a heavy travel market, compared to other world regions, the FAA’s forecasts reveal future growth gravitating to the South and Northwest of the country, and extending beyond Atlanta:

We looked more closely at passenger preferences for these four growth airports—Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Orlando—examining demand, infrastructure and planned improvements.

Two of these airports, Las Vegas and Orlando, are in favorable locations, with limited catchment competition. Seattle-Tacoma also has a significant advantage over the next large airport in its greater catchment area: Portland. Fort Lauderdale Airport has the greatest pull on its catchment area, with Miami International Airport only a few miles south.

 

                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • 22nd busiest airport in North America in terms of passenger traffic
  • Grew 4.6 percent in 2014 to 24.6 million.
  • Operations increased 1.1 percent to 258,344 in 2014.
  • The top four air carriers at FLL, in terms of average daily domestic operations, are JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.

 

Skyscanner's data shows Fort Lauderdale continues to be a strong draw to snow birds, with New York as the most popular O&D by a very wide margin. JetBlue has settled in well in its Southern home, offering an attractive and competitive cabin product.

Most popular Origins and Destinations flying out of Fort Lauderdale, USA

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from FLL measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from FLL measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

 

Of the four growth airports we reviewed, Fort Lauderdale has the biggest competition to contend with on expansion. Miami International Airport encroaches on a significant share of its catchment area for top destinations, including connections to the other three growth airports.

For example, Fort Lauderdale currently serves only 45% of the traffic within 60 km of its location on departures to Las Vegas. Skyscanner's data shows that traffic could grow by 124 percent with better service options and frequencies (with a confidence level of +/- 2 percent, given the existing sample size of searches).

 

Catchment Area and Traffic Leakage: Departures to Las Vegas from Fort Lauderdale area

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to LAS. The data shows FLL only serves 45% of the catchment area traffic to LAS, with more passengers choosing to depart from Miami (MIA). Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could grow by 124%* *Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-2%

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to LAS. The data shows FLL only serves 45% of the catchment area traffic to LAS, with more passengers choosing to depart from Miami (MIA). Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could grow by 124%*

*Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-2%

Fort Lauderdale beats Miami by miles on the next most popular destination after Las Vegas: Baltimore Washington International. In this case FLL receives 87% of the traffic. This control share is stimulated by the concentration of low-cost carriers serving the connection from FLL with Spirit, Southwest and JetBlue all beating American Airlines on fares, even with convenient direct flights. 

 

Catchment Area and Traffic Leakage: Departures to Baltimore from Fort Lauderdale Area

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to BWI. The data shows FLL serves 87% of the catchment area traffic to BWI, with much fewer passengers choosing to depart from Miami (MIA). Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could still grow by a further 15%* *Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-2%

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to BWI. The data shows FLL serves 87% of the catchment area traffic to BWI, with much fewer passengers choosing to depart from Miami (MIA). Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could still grow by a further 15%*

*Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-2%

Fort Lauderdale also comes out ahead of Miami when it comes to connecting the cool Northwest to the hot Southeast. The airport serves 74% of the traffic to Seattle from its catchment area (60km). Skyscanner data predicts that Miami could grow its share of Seattle traffic by as much as 304%, but with a lower confidence level of +/-9 percent. In fact, some competition from Miami for this route (or at least greater competition out of Fort Lauderdale) might prove beneficial to consumers.

 

Catchment Area and Traffic Leakage: Departures to Seattle from Fort Lauderdale Area

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to SEA. The data shows FLL serves 74% of the catchment area traffic to SEA. Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could still grow by 35%* *Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-5%

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows a defined radius of 60KM around FLL Airport, identifying the most used airports from the catchment by market share to SEA. The data shows FLL serves 74% of the catchment area traffic to SEA. Skyscanner estimates with better service such as non-stop flights and higher frequency, the traffic from FLL could still grow by 35%*

*Note: given the sample size the confidence interval for the share of FLL is +-5%

In both Fort Lauderdale and Miami, this route is dominated by major carriers taking customers through their respective hubs, with few direct flights at a significant price differential. Though the baseline fare in Fort Lauderdale is nearly half that of Miami. No surprise the crowd heads North before boarding. Fresh direct connections between these two regions might be well received by consumers.

Fort Lauderdale is building for a busier future. Broward County is investing over $2.4 billion in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Improvements and Renovations Program (FLLAIR) to modernize its terminals, make infrastructure improvements to support growth, and improve efficiency of operations.

The various projects to support these plans, some completed, with ongoing construction plans slated for completion between the end of 2017 and mid 2019. Coupled with better marketing of local attractions and services, there is big potential for Fort Lauderdale. 

“There is a lot of positive to accentuate at FLL, with the improvements under way and growth of existing airlines and arrival of new ones. We're going to have to stay keenly focused on delivering on all of those improvements while at the same time keeping an eye to the future,” Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s CEO and director of aviation told the Sun Sentinel in a community update in January of this year.

 

 

  • 2.7 percent increase in passengers in 2014, to reach 35.7 million.
  • Southwest Airlines is the airport's largest carrier of passengers.
  • Several NextGen modernization capabilities and enabling improvements have been implemented including Airport Surface Detection Equipment-Model X, and Performance Based Navigation procedures.

A little further North in the Florida peninsula, popular leisure destination Orlando is investing in future growth with a two-tier plan for expansion and better ground-to-air multimodal connections. These include a rail facility which will make getting to and from the airport easier while relieving stress and delays on road infrastructure, and a $1.8 billion investment to build a new Southern Terminal C which will increase capacity and offer visitors a modern and convenient journey.  

The three fastest growing destinations from Orlando according to Skyscanner’s data are Baltimore, Nashville, and Austin, reflecting the strength of Southwest Airlines at this airport.

Fastest growing destinations from Orlando, USA

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the number of ranking positions gained by destinations booked via Skyscanner from ORL every month over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the number of ranking positions gained by destinations booked via Skyscanner from ORL every month over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

But the next two fastest growing destinations reveal Orlando’s competition for the traditional role of Miami International Airport as the default gateway hub to South America. There is high demand for flights to Bogotá and Mexico City, and each of these are themselves convenient stop-overs to other Latin American destinations.

This evolution is easier to visualize by looking at Skyscanner's mapping of stopovers. Miami International still has the greatest variety of direct and one-stop routes to South America’s capitals, but large trunks of traffic are developing and as Orlando’s infrastructure grows, it could extend these destinations. The large footprint of low-cost airlines as convenient domestic connectors, and of international low-cost carriers for trips abroad can work in Orlando’s favor, especially during times of dramatic currency exchange fluctuations.

Connections Available from Miami and Orlando to Buenos Aires

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Miami and Orlando to Buenos Aires and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Miami and Orlando to Buenos Aires and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

  • 9th busiest airport in North America in terms of passenger traffic
  • Grew by 4.7 percent in 2014 to reach 42.9 million.
  • The number of operations increased 0.3 percent in 2013 to 522,399.
  • In 2014, the busiest scheduled airlines flying out of McCarran were Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Spirit Airlines.

In January 2017, the FAA kicked off a project to redesign airspace, introduce new Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures, and make use of Time Based Flow Management (TBFM) to make the Las Vegas Metroplex airspace more efficient.

McCarran International Airport also underwent an ambitious multi-phase expansion and modernization program which improved its capacity, operational efficiencies and passenger experience. The design of the modern Las Vegas hub includes a high emphasis on applied technology to streamline the travel process.     

While Las Vegas is an attractive destination around the world, appealing to full service and low-cost international carriers alike, the largest demand by far is to California destinations, followed by New York City.

Most popular Origins and Destinations flying out of Las Vegas, USA

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from LAS measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from LAS measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

As Skyscanner's data shows, this represents the attractiveness of these California entry hubs as stopovers to/from Asia/Pacific.

Connections Available from Las Vegas to Singapore and Sydney

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Las Vegas to Singapore and Sydney and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Las Vegas to Singapore and Sydney and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

The launch of new direct routes to and from Europe gives strength to Las Vegas in its competition with LAX for this traffic.    

Connections Available from Las Vegas to Paris

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Las Vegas to Paris and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

Source: Travel Insight Connections Maps visually plots how people get from Las Vegas to Paris and where they might stop over on the way. Airline planners need to know the stop overs to think about ways to improve the route offering.

  • 14th busiest airport in North America in terms of passenger traffic, which grew 7.7 percent in 2014 to 37.5 million.
  • Operations increased by 7.3 percent to 337,132 in 2014.
  • 20th busiest airport in terms of cargo volume in 2014 with 326,582 metric tons of freight and mail passing through its facilities, an increase of 11.6 percent.
  • Main hub for Alaska Airlines and its regional subsidiary Horizon Air, and an international gateway to Asia and Europe for Delta Air Lines.

Seattle-Tacoma has planned comprehensive facilities improvements which will minimise its environmental impact while improving operational efficiency and passenger experience; and allow for a planned doubling of international flights and destinations over the next 25 years.The airport broke ground this February on a North Satellite Expansion and Modernization project, where Alaska Airlines operates exclusively, to create more space and better facilities for a growing number of passengers.

On the surface, Seattle is somewhat predictable for O&D, with connections to other national hubs as portals to popular international destinations, but the airport also has its hidden secrets.

Most popular Origins and Destinations flying out of Seattle, USA

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from SEA measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the most popular O&D routes from SEA measured by user click-through volume over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

There is increasing travel demand for destinations at secondary hubs (MUC, CPH, YYC, BCN) which offer onward connections but are far more passenger-friendly to navigate.

Fastest growing destinations from Seattle, USA

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the number of ranking positions gained by destinations booked via Skyscanner from SEA every month over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

Source: Skyscanner Travel Insight data shows the number of ranking positions gained by destinations booked via Skyscanner from SEA every month over the previous 12 month period to July 2017

These secondary hubs also happen to be near growing technology capitals. In fact, we might be able to predict what tech sector is getting hot based on trending queries within Skyscanner's data. After all, this is where the future is at.  

 


With the largest and most diverse air travel network in the world, the United States truly leads the way in terms of investment in aviation infrastructure, with these advancements looking set to continue for the foreseeable future. Drilling into the growth forecasts, the modernization initiatives, and matching these with Skyscanner's unique passenger intent data reveals certain incredibly exciting opportunities for US based airlines to consider expanding their presence in key South East and North West locations.  At Skyscanner, we believe that Las Vegas, Seattle, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale airports should be on every US based carriers' radars.

At Skyscanner, we sit on a wealth of this forward-facing consumer intent data thanks to more than 60 million visitors planning their travel with us every month. This insight can help airlines navigate the future competitive landscape.

Want to hear more about how our data can help your airline spot commercial opportunities with our advanced data tool Travel Insight?