Research Projects

Demographic and Geographic Differences and Trends in U.S. Air Travel Propensity

Extend the findings of previous ACRP research on the variation in air travel propensity to account for a wider range of household characteristics and different subsets of the populations. Develop models and other tools to allow the airport industry to use these findings to better anticipate future changes in air travel demand and air passenger characteristics.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Future trends in air travel propensity, defined as the average number of air trips made per year by a household with given characteristics, underlies both projections of future air travel demand as well as providing airport planners and managers with information on the likely composition of the future air passenger market they will be serving. These projections of air passenger traffic and composition have important implications for the development of needed airport facilities, planning concessions and other passenger services, and future airport revenues. Airport managers are increasingly coming to recognize the importance of understanding not only the composition of the air passenger market that their airports are currently serving but also how this may change in the future. At the same time traditional forecasts of air passenger demand have relied on broad aggregate measures of economic activity, such as gross domestic product, as a sufficiently informative driver of air travel demand. In addition, the large and steady decline in real airfares since the earliest days of air travel has been a major contributor to rising air travel demand. However, it is becoming clear that the prospect for this decline to continue in the future is likely to be limited by a lack of suitable opportunities for airlines to continue to significantly reduce their operating costs. Thus future growth in air travel demand, and the resulting composition of the air travel market, will depend on socioeconomic changes in society.

The recently completed ACRP Project 03-36, the findings of which are documented in ACRP Research Report 194 "Using Disaggregated Socioeconomic Data in Air Passenger Demand Studies," has addressed how the distributions of individual household characteristics influence air passenger demand and the resulting air passenger market composition. The research included an extensive analysis of the results of a wide range of air passenger and household travel surveys that explored how air travel propensity varied with household characteristics. However, it was found that the relationships between air travel propensity and household characteristic varied widely between surveys, and in particular between intercept surveys of air passengers undertaken at airports and household travel surveys undertaken across large samples of households. The research, while speculating on factors that may explain these differences, was unable to satisfactorily resolve these discrepancies.

Until these discrepancies are resolved, airport planners and managers face a significant level of uncertainty in how best to interpret the results of such surveys in developing air travel demand forecasts, planning future airport facilities, and projecting anticipated revenues from airport concessions and other services. The proposed research will not only attempt to resolve these apparent discrepancies, but extend the analysis undertaken in Project 03-36 to provide more detailed guidance to airport planners and managers on the use of disaggregated socioeconomic data and develop appropriate models and other tools to support airport planning and investment decisions.

One potential area in which the proposed research could extend the analysis undertaken in Project 03-36 is to examine how air travel propensity varies geographically across U.S. regions. The highly detailed air passenger itinerary data reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) under the 10% Air Passenger Origin and Designation (O&D) Survey permits an analysis to be performed of the number of air passenger trips originating each year from the airport(s) serving each metropolitan area in the U.S. Combined with readily obtainable data on the number of household in each area, this allows the calculation of the average air travel propensity for each metropolitan region. Although not the same as estimates of air travel propensity using disaggregated socioeconomic data from surveys, these aggregate estimates of air travel propensity have two important potential contributions. First, they provide estimates of geographical differences in air travel propensity across regions without the challenge of having to obtain consistent survey data for each region. Second, they provide a comprehensive picture of changes in air travel propensity over time. Regression analysis of geographic differences in aggregate air travel propensity against aggregate measures of socioeconomic data for each region may shed useful light on how regional socioeconomic differences may account for differing levels of air travel propensity.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The proposed research would summarize and extend recent research on the variation in air travel propensity by air passenger characteristics, attempt to resolve differences found in past analysis, identify recent trends in air travel propensity by different subsets of the population, and develop models and other tools to allow the airport industry to better anticipate likely future changes in air travel demand and air passenger characteristics.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

The proposed research would build on and extend the analysis of air travel propensity undertaken for ACRP Research Report 194 through more detailed analysis of existing air passenger and household survey data and undertaking a detailed online household travel survey to address the limitations of existing surveys. The research would comprise several distinct but related activities:

  1. Perform a focused literature review to identify and summarize recent studies that have generated estimates of air travel propensity, particularly those published since the literature review undertaken as part of the research for ACRP Research Report 194. This would be supplemented by an analysis of the geographic variation in air travel propensity in the United States using data from the US DOT 10% O&D Survey.

  2. Summarize the findings of the analysis of air travel propensity from the wide range of air passenger and household travel surveys undertaken as part of ACRP Project 03-36, identify apparent inconsistencies in the results from different surveys, and identify potential sources for these differences. Undertake further analysis of the survey data to explore how air travel propensity varies with air traveler and household characteristics and attempt to resolve the apparent inconsistencies in the findings of previous analysis.

  3. Design and undertake an online survey of a large sample of households to collect data on air trips undertaken by household members over the previous year and relevant household characteristics in order to clarify and resolve issues identified in the analysis of existing survey data.

  4. Develop appropriate models and other tools to allow airport staff and their consultants to analyze trends in air travel propensity by air travelers at individual airports and anticipate likely future trends in the composition of air passengers using a given airport, as well as potential implications for future air travel demand.

The proposed research would consist of the following tasks:

Phase I

Task 1 Literature review – Update and extend the literature review undertaken as part of ACRP Project 03-36 to summarize recent studies of air travel propensity and address subsequent literature. Prepare an annotated bibliography for review by the Project Panel.

Task 2 Analysis of US DOT 10% O&D Survey data – Analyze data from 10% O&D Survey to identify the geographical variation in air travel propensity in different regions of the U.S. or across metropolitan areas of different sizes. Undertake exploratory analysis to relate differences in air travel propensity to aggregate socioeconomic characteristics of each region. Document the finding of the analysis is a technical memorandum for the Project Panel.

Task 3 Summarize and extend previous survey analysis – Prepare a summary of the survey analysis undertaken in ACRP Project 03-36, identify apparent inconsistencies in the findings, and identify potential sources for these differences. Undertake further analysis of the survey data analyzed in Project 03-35 as well as data from additional surveys that may be available to explore how air travel propensity varies with air traveler and household characteristics and attempt to resolve the apparent inconsistencies in the findings of previous analysis. Document the findings of the analysis in a technical memorandum for the Project Panel.

Task 4 Design and test a large scale web-based survey – Design a large scale web-based household survey to collect data on air trips undertaken by household members over the previous year and relevant household characteristics in order to clarify and resolve issues identified in the analysis of existing survey data. Develop and implement the survey website and recruit a sample of survey participants to test the prototype survey. Perform a pilot survey to test the survey instrument and experimental design and analyze the results.

Task 5 Interim Report – Prepare and submit draft Interim Report and meet with Project Panel to review Phase I results and plans for Phase II

Phase II

Task 6 Recruit participants for a large scale web-based survey of household air travel experience and relevant household characteristics.

Task 7 Revise the survey website as necessary to address issues that arose in the pilot survey and conduct the full-scale survey.

Task 8 Analyze the results of the full-scale household survey to identify the relationships between the air travel propensity of survey respondents and respondent household characteristics.

Task 9 Analyze the results of the survey to determine how representative the survey respondents are to the national air travel population and develop appropriate weighting factors to adjust the relationships between air travel propensity and household characteristic to correspond to national and regional travel patterns.

Task 10 Develop models of air travel propensity from the results of the web-based survey and other surveys analyzed in the research and other analysis tools that can be used by airport planners and managers or their consultants to analyze trends in air travel propensity by air travelers at individual airports and anticipate likely future trends in the composition of air passengers using a given airport, based on projected or assumed future changes in regional socioeconomic factors, as well as potential implications for future air travel demand.

Task 11 Final Report – Prepare draft Final Report documenting the project findings, submit for Project Panel review, revise to address comments and concerns, and coordinate with ACRP staff to publish final version.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

It is estimated that 16 person-months of effort would be required to undertake the proposed tasks. Together with costs for travel and data acquisition, the funding required for the research is estimated at $550,000. This includes $78,000 for Internet survey panel costs and $8,000 for travel and other direct expenses.

The level of effort is based on assigning person-months of effort to each of the above tasks and an average cost of $29,000 per person-month based on the budgeted cost for recent ACRP projects.

It is envisaged that the proposed research could be conducted over a period of approximately 24 months, including allowances for project panel review of draft intermediate and final deliverables.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

The proposed research builds on and extends the findings of ACRP Project 03-36, documented in ACRP Research Report 194 "Using Disaggregated Socioeconomic Data in Air Passenger Demand Studies." This report includes an extensive annotated bibliography on previous relevant air travel demand studies.

Because the research results anticipated by this proposal would be used to guide and better inform future airport and other survey efforts, any eventual application of this research would be improved with consideration of ACRP Research Report 26 "Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys" (currently being revised under an ACRP research project commencing in 2019).

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Idea No. 189