Oct 16th, 2017

The Fall and Rise of CVG: Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky Airport I II

Posted in Uncategorized

The Fall and Rise of CVG was first chronicled in last week’s blog: https://www.doctoraviation.com/fall-rise-cincinnati-northern-kentucky-airport/ .  More precisely I chronicled the fall of CVG from the nation’s 22nd largest passenger airport to the 54tht in nine years.  This blog examines the rebound of the tremendous regional airport.

The Return of Cargo

Much as the move of DHL to Wilmington Ohio in 2005 severely damaged CVG.  Just as abruptly, DHL announced they were moving back to CVG from Wilmington in 2008/2009.  The economic impact on Wilmington was severe, sparking Glenn Beck to come to the city in 2010 for a support rally.

Meanwhile in Cincinnati, cargo hauling began an impressive and steady climb beginning in 2009.  It required the hiring of cargo handlers, the move of pilots and maintenance personnel to the Northern Kentucky region and provided more activity for the local FAA air traffic controllers.  The rise was amped up by the announcement of major expansion at CVG by DHL. The expansion made CVG a major hub for shipments to over 200 countries worldwide by 2014 (see:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6RSZaW_4nY).  This accelerated the cargo climb, which by 2015 resulted in over 4 billion pounds of landed weight per year.  This makes Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky the 8th largest cargo airport in the United States.

Steady Leadership

The death of beloved airport CEO Robert Holscher was detailed in Part I.  The airport personnel put their affection into action. Holscher’s legacy is commemorated by a park dedicated to him by the airport personnel.

John Mok was brought in to shake things up at CVG.  After his departure in 2011, his number two, Candace McGraw, took the reins.  After a tumultuous start, McGraw has proven to provide steady, but not flashy leadership.  I heard her speak a couple of years ago.  She said something very memorable.  In leadership, “you have to be able to stand the sight of your own blood”.  In other words, sometimes leadership can be a battle with injuries.

Fortunately, I have been blessed to work closely with some of the key individuals on the airport staff.  I can say without reservations, that they are top notch.  CVG is blessed to have them.  I will spare them the embarrassment of naming them, but suffice it to say that I would be happy to have them in my organization.

The Arrival of Low Cost Carriers

The upside of being a major Delta hub in the early 2000s also had its downside.  It was convenient, especially for business travelers, to have access to all points of the United States and beyond.  There were around 500 flights a day, but it came at a price – a very high price.  High ticket prices to be exact. Delta essentially enjoyed a monopoly at CVG.  Every time a carrier would attempt to add a flight, let’s say to Dallas, Delta would swoop in.  They would undercut the rival on price until the carrier dropped the route or left CVG.  Then Delta would raise their fares substantially.  As a result, CVG was rated as the most expensive airport in the United States as late as 2014.  The convenience of the hub was paid for by the cost, the high cost.

When Delta pulled out, that left few flights at high prices – the worst of both worlds.  It also left a vacuum.  As they said in “The King and I”, nature abhors a vacuum.  Eventually the flight vacuum was filled by low cost carriers.  First came Frontier, with super low fares to Denver.  Allegiant followed with their no frills (definitely no frills, if you have ever flown them), but super low fares.  CVG hit the jackpot in June of 2017 with the arrival of Southwest Airlines (see https://www.doctoraviation.com/southwest-airlines-game-changer/ ).  CVG went from #1 on the expense chart to #22 in 2016 and they continue to drop.

Air travel has followed.  The airport commercial traffic is growing at about 5% over the past few years.  So after nearly a decade of falling, CVG is rising steadily.  This fact is much to the happiness of travelers in the Midwest and the faithful employees who endured a dark period.  A strong airport is vital to the health of a regional economy.  May the rise continue for CVG.