"More options are good for the public," said Ryks, observing: "When there's competition, it stimulates the market. We see more volume and better fares. It's good for the region and for the economy."
Despite Midwest's pending withdrawal, Ryks said Duluth International probably will handle a record number of passengers in 2007.
Ryks said he hopes Northwest will expand, not scale back its service to Duluth in Midwest's absence. The Eagan, Minn.-based airline offers seven round-trip flights from Duluth to the Twin Cities and two flights to Detroit, all on a daily basis.
Ryks noted that non-traditional, low-cost carriers have fared a little better against Northwest.
Allegiant Air offers two round-trip flights each week between Duluth and Las Vegas. Citing the popularity of the route and anticipated growth in winter demand, the airline recently announced it will boost the frequency of its service to three flights weekly on March 5.
Dickson said that the pending sale of Midwest Airlines to TPG Capital had no bearing on his company's decision to quit Duluth. Northwest is a minority investor in the private equity firm, which is prepared to pay $450 million for Midwest if federal anti-trust regulators give the deal their blessing.
"That had no influence," Dickson said. "This was a poorly performing route, regardless of any ownership considerations."
Dean Breest, a spokesman for Northwest Airlines, said that his company, as a passive investor in TPG, will not be involved in running Midwest.
"TPG and Northwest formed a limited liability company (LLC) which acquired the stock of Midwest Air Group Inc, the parent of Midwest Airlines. TPG will be the sole managing member of the LLC and Northwest will be a non-managing and non-voting member," he said. "Northwest has no right to designate any members of Midwest's board of directors and has no involvement or decision-making authority in the management of Midwest."
When asked if Northwest's role as an investor could have influenced Midwest to leave Duluth, Ryks shrugged off the question.
"I don't know that I'll ever know the answer to that," he said.
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