If Northwest bought Midwest, it might increase departures from Milwaukee, Boyd said, but not to the extent envisioned by AirTran.
Hamilton said Northwest would view its expanded Milwaukee operations as "an afterthought" and "totally expendable."
"There would be no security for (Milwaukee) service, nor for (Midwest Air) employees," Hamilton said.
Leonard has said Midwest Air is worth more to AirTran than to other prospective buyers. Milwaukee would function as a second hub for AirTran, which uses Atlanta for 68% of its departing flights. With the airlines merged, 46% of AirTran's departures would be from Atlanta and 25% from Milwaukee.
"For Northwest, with a dominant position in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit, there is no strategic value in Milwaukee, just a defensive one," said Kevin Healy, AirTran vice president of planning. Northwest, he said, would "only need to maintain enough service to prevent other competition" and would likely reduce service out of Mitchell International.
Northwest has a mixed record in Milwaukee, said Dean Hill, president of Campbell-Hill Aviation Group Inc. of Alexandria, Va.
"Northwest, over the years, has had an interest in Milwaukee off and on," Hill said.
Northwest offered 38 daily flights from Milwaukee to 13 cities in summer 2005 as it tried to take market share from Midwest Airlines. But that strategy failed, and Northwest began dropping flights as it entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in fall 2005. It now offers 15 daily non-stop departures to the airline's hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis.
Northwest, which emerged from Chapter 11 in May, has been troubled this summer with an increase in canceled flights because the airline didn't have enough pilots. Those cancellations angered travelers from Milwaukee and other cities throughout Northwest's network.
Northwest said it plans to hire 250 to 350 pilots within the next year. Also, Northwest has recalled nearly 400 furloughed pilots.
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In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AirTran says it would add 74 daily departures from Mitchell International Airport, double seating capacity and add 29 destinations.
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An investors group that includes Northwest Airlines Corp. has offered to buy Midwest Air Group for more than $400 million, circumventing a hostile bid by AirTran Holdings Inc.