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Spokes and Hubs System: Aviation Context Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 15th, 2022


A hub and spoke system is a system or distribution model that is based on a linkage configuration used to control traffic. In the simple terms, the traffic moves along a stream that is often referred to as a number of spokes which are linked to one central location that is referred to as a hub. This system applies in a number of sectors including the transport sector, telecommunications as well as in the computer world. This model has been mostly used in the transport sector and is centered on the organization of route plans. In the aviation sector, the model is used to organize flights to transit from the central hub to non hub stations or cities (Yale, 201). This system with credited with reducing the cost of operating logistics around the country as plans are made to utilize channels carrying full capacity and less concentration on those carrying less. The system also enables the airline management be able to simplify routes.


Delta airline attributed with starting the concept in 1955. The system is compared to the hum and spoke system that can be found in a bicycle wheel. The system has one major hub that connects to the rims of the bicycle using spokes. When this comparison is introduced to the aviation industry, we get a clearer picture of how the system operates. Delta airlines first started using the system using Atlanta, Georgia as its main hub. The number of hubs increased over time so as to have solid and redundant network that would enable planes have an alternative route under any situation. Another reason that Delta Airlines conceived the system was to be able to become more efficient in its competition with Eastern Airlines which at the rime was threatening to eat into Delta airlines market share. It was not until the mid 1970s when the system was fully adapted by Fed Ex. The hub and spoke system has encountered several modifications and reforms to include additional hubs that are located in some different regions elsewhere (Babcock 52). This was also followed by the creation of other major routes to connect the hubs. The main essence of this system is to shorten the distances between the regional hubs which eliminate the need of travelling long distances. Another reform or development that has been adopted within the system is the utilization of focus cities so at to provide for point to point service. This technique normally implemented in areas of high traffic seeks to go around hubs hence reducing the workload on the hubs.

Deregulation of 1978

Following the enactment of the deregulation act of 1978, the airline industry was headed for major reforms including the change over of control from aviation system. At the time control of airlines was carried out by political decisions, this mode shifted with the enactment of the act as now aspects such as pricing of tickets, entry and exit of airlines was carried now determined by the market forces. Initially such key decisions rested on the Civil Aeronautics Board that was phased out following another act i.e. CAB Sunset Act which dissolved the board in December 1984. The Civil Aeronautics Board was responsible for a vast array of functions such as the planning of routes and fares including all the scheduling. Routes were granted to airlines by the board and at the time opponents to the boards cited that the manner in which the airlines were being awarded routes was influenced by political situations and political leaders (Yale 52). At the time there were four major airline carriers, United airline which was the largest followed by American, Eastern and Transcontinental Airlines. All these airlines had a considerable hold on the aviation sector and opposed the entry of new players into the industry.

Deregulation of the airline industry followed continued calls by members of the public and industry regulators as the industry was susceptible to political decisions. Liberalization of the industry was in line with the government’s initiatives towards reforming the country’s economy towards a more capitalistic model. At the time the Civil Aeronautics Board inhibited the operations and investment plans hence it was difficult for the industry to respond to the market needs. The airline being a critical part of the development of the economy had to be regulated and this was done successfully in 1978. The need for deregulation came into the fore after the development of the turbo jet engines as this increased the pace at which airports could be used. Reports show that by 1960’s there had been rise in the number of passengers from around one hundred million to over two hundred passengers by the mid 70’s. These numbers represented the number of Americans that had used air transport as the mode of transport. The need for regulation also arose as at the time airlines were required to fly point to point i.e. airlines had to fly from one small city to another excluding those cities that were located within its flight path. This resulted in aircrafts flying when they are only a fraction full. Thos was costly to airline operators and the citizens of those locations that the airlines did not stop.

Other complaints from residents of where the hubs were located were that they were not benefiting from the service that the hubs were supposed to offer them. Smaller start up airlines also complained that the deregulation of the airlines created monopolies within some airlines, the same monopolies that the initiative had sought to eliminate in the first place. Critics have cited that the deregulation opened up a number of underlying issues that were unforeseen at the time. For example domination of some hubs over others and complaints of congestion and airport delays. At the time few people had conceived that the number of airlines would mushroom at the fat rate that they have done so in the over twenty years (Wensveen 102).

Operations of a Hub and spoke system within the Aviation context

It is important to note at this point that not all airlines subscribe to the hub and spoke system as others like southwest have their own different method of planning flight plans. Basically the hubs and spoke system follows a system whereby there is a central hub that is joined to other smaller airports in a mesh like manner. This links are referred to as spokes (Wensveen 36).An airline can decide to choose an airport that can serve as its destination airport for a number of cities (spokes). This decision is based on the number of cities and the size of the planes that may be serving the spoke (Babcock, 108). The same airports also assist in reducing the congestion that can be at the main hub. The hub and spoke system was used by most big carriers to dominate the airline market and to shield themselves against the competition as it became increasingly evident that the low cost carrier were increasingly becoming more and more popular. The hub and spoke and spoke system is preferred as it offers customers of the airline more choice of destinations.

Impact of regulation started being felt immediately the deregulation of the airlines was completed. One of the factors that were affected was the price of airline tickets. The price of airline tickets has been on a steady decline since the government decided to deregulate the industry. This was because now all airlines were subject to competing against themselves. Initially all prices were set out by the Civil Aeronautical Board. When inflation is factored in the calculation of fall in the price of tickets, we get that airline tickets have fallen on an average of forty percent since the deregulations initiatives were put into effect. Another important aspect of airline sector that was affected was quality of service offered to travelers. Since the initiatives were put in place, the service standards of airlines has risen and this is attributed to the rise in competition among the airlines. Now customers could choose from a variety of airlines on which to fly with. The service that airlines offer is measured using a variety of ways such as the number of aircrafts that are available to serve its customers, the miles flown by the airline pilots, the time effectiveness of the airline i.e. time consciousness of management and staff towards ensuring that everything runs on time. The number of amenities is another factor that should be considered under the quality of services offered. Since deregulation there have been attempts by airlines to introduce amenities to its customers as a way of luring customers away from the competition. There have also been a number of customer oriented programs that have been introduced in order to make it more convenient for customers to fly with the airlines.

Another factor that has also improved is also is the safety record of the airlines within the aviation sector. The number of fatalities recorded in comparison with the number of miles that has been flown has significantly fallen over the last few years, this has been as a result of stricter regulations enforced by both the airline companies and the regulatory authorities. One point that should be need here is that as much as deregulation occurred, oversight still remained with the Federal Aviation Administration. This is the body that was tasked with maintain the standards set by aviation laws in the United States.

Advantages of Hub and spoke system

The benefits accrued by airlines is that the system offers better usage of airline resources as shorter distances generally lead to less usage of fuel and frequent trips being made by the airplane. As we all know that an airplane is the single most important asset of an airline and the more trips that it makes then the more cash it brings for the airline. Another advantage is that it is easier to develop new spokes which can easily be scheduled in the flight plan. The spokes and hubs system is preferred because of control is more localized hence making it easier as less staff are required in order to administer to customers. Day to day airline operations are thus made better as flights are also planned much better and not from a myriad of locations.


As much as control can be cited as being centralized, this offers the challenge as issues such as flexibility arise. Decisions have to come from the hubs hence it can take a long time before a decision is reached. For example if an airline overbooks a flight the stranded passenger will have to wait first before instructions are received from the hub or central office. The whole network can become affected by a small inconvenience on one route. This system also requires complex arrangements of scarce airline resources. This responsibility is left to specialized teams of individuals. IThe aviation industry is very delicate hence the need for strict control of airline resources that includes staff and planes.

the Fatigue generally leads to an acceleration of reaction time, a reduction in attention and a decrease in accuracy levels. Pilots under fatigue tend to misplace or overlook elements of task that are traditionally carried out in sequence, such as overlooking checklist items and concentrating on a single tasks and ignoring other important ones in the process. In terms of memory, a state of fatigue has little effects on long –term memory, but greatly impairs short-term memory, along with the individual cognitive processing capacity. (Yale 102).

Fatigue also has wide ranging effects on communication, such as unclear speech, and misinterpretation of messages. Decision making skills are also invariably degraded by fatigue and the result is inappropriate responses to emergencies in most cases. (Yale 105).Due to the high number of unrecognized “stressors” that still remain and therefore go unnoticed, the civil aviation authorities have developed a number of checklists that pilots can use in self evaluation for “stressors’. The Federal Aviation Authority (F.A.A) of the United States, in example, has come up with the “I’m Safe” checklist that pilots can employ in self evaluation for flight readiness. It attempts to address well known stressors such as alcohol consumption, illness, mediation, fatigue and general stress, and presents pilots with the opportunity to subject them to a reality check before embarking on a flight. (Yale 201).

In addition to interfering with judgment, attention and memory, stress can also significantly affect muscle control and hand to eye coordination. In light of these facts, the importance of identification and management of potential “stressors” cannot be overemphasized. “Stressors” are generally classified in to two categories; external and internal. External stressors originate from sources out of the body. (Clarence 48).They are further classified into subcategories under psychosocial and environmental external “stressors”. Environmental external “stressors” include poor conditions of flight, extreme cold or heat conditions, high levels of noise, excessive arbitration and effects of altitude, while psychosocial external “stressors” exist in close relation to conditions and events liked to social characteristics found at individual or family level and include family conflicts, which may present themselves in the form of spousal conflict, illness, death or problems with children. Work related conflicts include short time flights, low satisfaction with the job, general feeling of lack of support and lack of control. (Clarence 50).

Internal “stressors” however, have their origin within the affected individual and are typically regarded as under the control of the affected individual. Their subcategories include cognitive and physiological internal “stressors’. Physiological stressors include, but are not limited to unhealthy diets, muscular fatigue, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, sleep deprivation and loss of hearing, while cognitive internal stressors include high workload, general boredom, lack of information or information overload , hopelessness and fear.( Clarence 52). In light of the identified ‘stressors’ and their degradative effects on cognitive function and consequentially, decision making skills, civil aviation rues have been established by civil aviation regulatory authorities to deal with a majority of the more obvious “stressors”. These include “stressors” such as drug use and alcohol consumption. The stated bodies are also engaged in the making of concerted efforts at achieving the effective handling of other “stressors” such as fatigue. (Clarence 55).

In the case of fatigue, for example, important factors that contribute to the development of fatigue, such as poor quality of sleep, circadian rhythm disruption, commuting time effects and irregular hours of work, among other factors have been addressed in recent years, presenting an improvement from the limitation of such focus to the evaluation of working hours only as it was done in the past. Thus in order to achieve an informed analysis of “stressors” and their contributions to aviation accidents, it will be paramount to precede with achieving definition of stress and how it affects the cognitive process. Stress is generally defined as the usual and unspecified reaction of the body to a demand of any nature placed upon it. The body might respond to the demand either physiologically, physically or psychologically. (Yale 25).The cognitive process, which can be defined as the process of attention, knowledge, memory, perception, decision making and problem solving is generally affected by prolonged stress, as well as general behavior and emotional status. The seriousness of this issue to the aviation sector lies in the fact that any problems that affect the ability of pilots to concentrate, make informed judgment or to be attentive behind the cockpit put the aircraft and all people aboard it at great risk. Research has established that under the condition of high stress. Learned procedures are generally forgotten and many people, opt to employ old habits in the decision making process. More often than not, this decision is usually ill-informed and thus posses dangerous repercussions. Many pilots generally tend to apply knowledge and techniques that were learnt in the course of handling other aircraft types in handling of aircrafts when they are under high stress conditions. Apart from this, a high stress level causes the problem of perceptual tunneling among pilots ((Yale 102).

These is an error of cognitive nature whereby either a pilot in the whole aircrew focus on a single stimulus, for example, a warning signal, and ignore all other information or tasks that are of equal importance, when under high stress conditions. Perceptual tunneling was implicated in the crash of an Eastern Airlines aircraft; Lockheed L-1011 in the Everglades of Florida because the flight crew, consisting of three members, determined a missed approach, under no indication of the extension of the nose landing gear, and afterwards focused all their attention on the identification of the problem posed by the position light system. In the process, they failed to notice that the aircraft was not.

Different Hubs Configuration

Due to factor such as agglomeration and other demerits that accompanied the hubs and spoke system, various alternative models have been developed in order to serve more customers at a cheaper cost to the airline’s bottom line. Such developments have been manifested through Code sharing agreements among the airlines. Code sharing simply means that the airlines share seat allocations on one flight, reducing the chances of empty seats on a plane. This is can be viewed as one airline marketing a flight on behalf of another airline operator. An airline seat is purchased from on airline operator in a manner that appears as if the two operators are cooperating together. A seat is purchased under a code that is used to refer to a number used in the flight schedule. The advantage with this system is that it allows the client a better access to more cities and also saves the airlines the hassle of offering extra flights for their clients. This ensures that it is win-win situation for all.

Other airlines use the legacy system i.e. the point to point system. This system includes the haulage of persons and individuals over short miles and distances involving fewer connecting flights during the whole journey. Other airlines utilize the alliances program in order to operate flights within an area. These alliances are partnership programs between a number of airlines that have consolidated themselves for the purposes of sharing cost and taking advantage of the areas that are covered by the other partners. This allows the airline operators to concentrate on their core routes. Costs are reduced in marketing as each partner focuses on their local markets while offering flights that could be outside their area of operations such as in other continents. Benefits derived by the airline by being a member of an alliance, is that it grants an airline the privilege of serving more travelers through the network. With a better coordinated structure that ensures the traveler is able to journey seamlessly, the alliance has been enjoyed a higher market for its services as more travelers embrace as the idea of “one airline”. Being a member of the privileged team also ensures that planes and airport infrastructure are employed to the maximum to serve as many clients as possible. Parts of the infrastructure include, airport lounges, and baggage handling facilities. Airlines using the alliance system have seen themselves grow both through its fleet and through profits. It is after the realization that it was unsustainable to expand globally while increasing the capital outlay of the firm on expansion expenditures (Yale 102).

Difficulties of being a member includes the erosion of its corporate culture that prides on excellence and maintenance of high standards. In house functions such as I.T and quality assurance had to be in tandem with requirements of the alliance. This means that the airline has to lose some of its independence by being a member of the alliance.

Works Cited

Babcock, Brian. Making Sense of Cities: A Geographical Survey, London: Arnold, 2002.

Clarence, Thomas. Stressed Out. New York: CRC Publishers, 2010.

Wensveen, John. Air transportation: a management perspective. Bombay: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007

Yale, Bontekoning. Hub exchange operations in intermodal hub-and-spoke operations: comparison of the performances of four types of rail-rail exchange facilities. New York: IOS Press, 2006.

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