American Airlines pulls 2 regional jets from Lawton

Sometimes an airline giveth and sometimes it taketh away.

But Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport didn't expect American Airlines to do the latter so soon.

Nearly six weeks after the Dallas-based airline added two regional jets to its Lawton schedule, American has decided the planes will be pulled in September, taking with them 20 seats travelers were just getting used to using.

Barbara McNally, manager of Lawton-Fort Sill, said the news surprised her, considering the jets have been popular with travelers.

"We've been filling these planes up," McNally said. The airport saw a 16.6 percent increase in boarding last month, which McNally attributes to the June 14 addition of the two 44-seat jets.

McNally said American Airlines' decision is evidence that filling the seats is not enough.

"The airlines are going where they are going to get incentives," McNally said.

American spokesman Andrea Huguely admits the airline does shuffle aircraft to different markets for incentive reasons, but that is not the only determining factor in the decision about Lawton.

"We're actually needing to play them (the regional jets) elsewhere," Huguely said. She said the jets will be replaced by two 34-seat Saab 340s, which currently are used on other Dallas-Lawton flights.

The Saab aircraft have fewer seats than the Embraer RJ-140, but there'll still be plenty of seats to serve the market, Huguely said.

The jets will be pulled Sept. 5, Huguely said.

McNally said she hopes American will return the aircraft to the Lawton route in the future. In the meantime, the airport will focus on keeping its flights full, she said.

"Hopefully we'll be able to keep the load factors up so American knows this is a profitable market for them," McNally said.

Making itself attractive to American Airlines is not Lawton's only focus. The airport is in talks with Delta Air Lines hoping to secure a direct flight from Lawton to Atlanta. The airport will give $525,000 to Delta as a revenue guarantee to help with startup costs and marketing for the first year, McNally said. She said Delta is expected to tell airport officials later this week how much money the airline would need for its second year of service.

Delta doesn't have too long to decide on whether it will become Lawton's second commercial carrier. The Department of Transportation grant from which the revenue guarantee comes expires at the end of September.

"The DOT needs an answer quickly," McNally said.

"The infrastructure is here. We are just waiting on the carriers."

Ja'Rena Lunsford: 475-3126, jlunsford@oklahoman.com


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