Bucking the Air Service Trend

At MKE, carriers focus on capturing the Midwest market with enhanced air service.

MILWAUKEE — AirTran Airways has expanded service by more than 50 percent at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE); Midwest Airlines has added flight options; and, there is new service from American Eagle and Delta/Northwest. “We are in good shape right now,” says Barry Bateman, A.A.E., managing director at MKE. “Milwaukee is a business market with many companies headquartered here; the airlines are looking to capture that market.” Each airline has ramped up service from Milwaukee to some degree, and the effect has brought a healthy level of competition, as well as success, to the airport. While most airports across the U.S. struggle to maintain air service, Milwaukee has turned vibrant. Reasons include its unique position in the marketplace; the potential to gain market share to the south; and, being an airport that has a history of working with the air carriers.

The three key airlines serving Mitchell International include Midwest, the market-share leader and long-time regional carrier; AirTran, a fast-becoming dominant player in the area; and the recently merged Delta/Northwest alliance.

Says Midwest’s Michael Brophy, “We have maintained our non-stop business destination core focus; the Milwaukee market exemplifies that focus.” Beginning in June, Midwest will add non-stop flights to Boston and Orlando, and another to Los Angeles (connecting in Kansas City.)

In May, Delta will introduce service to New York’s JFK International and Salt Lake City — both of which can connect travelers to international destinations in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean.

The big story, however, is AirTran’s growing interest in the Milwaukee market. In an effort to diversify its network, the carrier is currently targeting high-profile business destinations to complement its more leisure-oriented offerings. The launch of eleven new flights out of Mitchell to Branson (MO), St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Denver, as well as extended year-round service to Los Angeles, Boston, and Tampa, with extended seasonal service to San Francisco and Seattle, results in an increase of flights from Milwaukee to more than 50 percent year over year.

“AirTran Airways’ ability to be nimble and responsive to changing market conditions is a tremendous competitive advantage,” says Kevin Healy, senior vice president of marketing and planning for AirTran.

“Increasing flights to and from Milwaukee and Orlando while redesigning our Atlanta hub schedule to make the network more efficient and productive are the latest examples of this capability.”

Airtran - gaining a foothold
AirTran recently announced a record first quarter net income of $28.7 million; company officials offered comment in a conference call conducted last April. Relates Bob Fornaro, chairman, president, and chief executive officer, “The ability to post a profit is rooted in the company’s industry leading cost-unit position, and the many difficult decisions made last year.

“At a time when businesses are facing tremendous economic headwinds, reporting profits alone is an accomplishment,” says Fornaro.

“We were one of the first airlines to react to the changing economic environment last year; as a result, we are among the first airlines to show signs of recovery. We expect to be profitable every quarter this year.”

Fornaro says the company is focusing on developing a more balanced network. “We have a weak revenue environment; this is the time to focus on reallocating assets and managing expenses.

“We are optimizing our system right now in an effort to focus on where our strengths are. We have really enhanced our position in the business community and become a much stronger business carrier.”

Fornaro says there are some great opportunities for AirTran to take advantage of, with perhaps the biggest in Milwaukee. After a strong winter, “We are going to double our capacity in the marketplace this summer; I think the timing is right for us to finally gain a foothold in the Midwest,” says Fornaro.

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