“As a result of new city growth and natural attrition, we are hiring new crew members in our in-flight operations and maintenance groups, primarily in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Orlando, and Atlanta.”
According to Healy, as a low-cost producer in a moderate to low fare environment, AirTran is in a much better shape to take advantage of market conditions with its product and the ancillary revenues that come along with its volume.
“I feel we are in a position where, with our cost structure, we really can expand whatever market we choose to go into,” says Healy.
In a recent press release, Healy states, “Passenger demand for the AirTran Airways’ product has been strong in Milwaukee; service expansion to Las Vegas and Phoenix has been extremely well received. We think the addition of New York will be a strong market for both business and leisure travelers and a key part of our growing network from Mitchell Field.”
Says Mitchell International director Bateman, “We are very fortunate that AirTran has chosen to make Milwaukee one of its major operations.
“That is a wonderful improvement, particularly during a recession, to have that type of expansion. To date, none of the other airlines are cutting back service as a result of that, giving us a superior air service map.
“AirTran has focused on increasing their business traveler base; we are not an explosive market like Las Vegas or Phoenix, but we also don’t have the downturns.”
On the issue of airline consolidation, AirTran’s Fornaro relates that the company tried to play a role in consolidation two years ago by purchasing Midwest, a deal he is glad it didn’t win due to the price for which Midwest ultimately sold, some $450 million.
“Now we have the opportunity to grow organically,” says Fornaro. “In terms of consolidation going forward, you have to look at Delta and Northwest, who have done a good job in bringing people together.”
Mitchell’s hubbing airline, Midwest, remains the region’s market share leader, serving 27 destinations non-stop. Headquartered in Milwaukee, the carrier has been a major presence in the area for 25 years.
Michael Brophy, vice president of corporate communications for Midwest, says from a business standpoint the airline has gone through some fairly significant reductions in schedule and capacity during the last year; by at least 40 percent in some markets; and at least 30 percent out of Mitchell. Due to the run-up in fuel prices last summer, capacity cutbacks were made in particular to its long-haul flights to the West Coast and some leisure destinations.
“Right now we are looking at each route to see what makes sense economically; we are in a hold-on and make it work period now, although we have added some capacity back to Milwaukee, with flights to Boston and Orlando,” says Brophy.
“Where it makes sense, we will add; but we are not going to knee-jerk things just because competitors come in and announce various additions to their schedule. We are making sure we execute our business plan; it’s a bit of a back-to-the-future approach for us, focusing on non-stop travel to primarily business destinations.”
Brophy says that, to deal with the current economic environment, major legacy carriers will continue to announce cutbacks in capacity throughout the next year. The Milwaukee market, however, makes sense for Midwest as part of its non-stop business destination core focus.
“I think the [Milwaukee] market itself has a fairly diverse base of business,” says Brophy.
“The economy, in spite of what people may believe, has remained stable here, and businesses have done a good job of diversifying. You don’t see the wild economic swings here that you would see on the coasts.”
While the carrier is seeing some softness in business travel, it’s not as drastic as in other parts of the country, relates Brophy. “That can be attributed to the Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin market; and the state actually, because we get good feeder traffic from Green Bay and Appleton.”
According to Brophy, the most important aspect of the airline’s relationship with the airport are the open lines of communication and superb management.