ANALYSIS: How capacity cuts hit top US airports

Washington DC
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Capacity at more than a dozen of the largest airports in the USA tumbled more than 10% since 2007, as airlines downsized hubs and slashed flights to destinations popular with leisure travellers.

At five of those airports — Tampa International, Las Vegas McCarran, Washington Dulles, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Salt Lake City and Baltimore/Washington International — available seats declined roughly 20% during the period, according a Flightglobal examination of Innovata data.

Although many smaller communities and former hubs like Memphis and Pittsburgh suffered the brunt of recent industry capacity cuts, the data shows the degree to which the nation's largest airports were also affected.

Those airports — the 30 with the most available seats in 2014 — collectively lost 6.1% of their capacity since 2007, when total US capacity peaked at about 1.1 billion available seats, according to Innovata.

But some large airports suffered worse than others, victims of broad service cuts from both large legacy airlines and low-cost competitors.

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Source: Innovata.

Capacity at Tampa International, for instance, tumbled more than 22% in the last seven years, while departures from the airport slipped 29%, according to Innovata.

During that period, Southwest Airlines and now-subsidiary AirTran Airways, which together carry more passengers from Tampa than any other carrier, eliminated more than 14,000 annual departures from the city and cut their capacity by one-third.

Likewise, in 2014 United Airlines will offer 28% fewer seats and nearly 50% fewer flights from Tampa than it and merger partner Continental Airlines did in 2007, data shows.

Las Vegas McCarran has also lost 22% of its capacity in the last seven years, the slide being led by American Airlines and merger partner US Airways, which collectively cut 66% of their available seats and 73% of their departures from the airport.

US Airways dismantled its hub at Las Vegas in 2008.

But airports at leisure-centric destinations aren't the only large airfields to see sharp reductions.

Washington Dulles International’s capacity slipped 22% from 2007 to 2014 as United, which maintains a hub at Dulles, reduced its capacity there by nearly 20%, data shows.

Likewise, Delta Air Lines, which acquired Northwest Airlines, and the combined American-US Airways each cut capacity at Dulles by about half during the period.

Salt Lake City's 20% decline results largely from cuts by Delta, while Baltimore/Washington International’s 20% decline comes amid broad flight reductions by Southwest and AirTran.

Capacity at a handful of US airports, however, has actually climbed since 2007.

Those include Charlotte -Douglas, where available seats rose 22% in the last seven years, led primarily by US Airway’s growth, according to Innovata.

Likewise, capacity at San Francisco climbed 21% since 2007, a period during which Virgin America expanded rapidly and United boosted its available seats by 10%, data shows.