Great Lakes Airlines to Pick Up RegionsAir's Springfield Service

Commuter flights between Springfield and St. Louis could resume within a month or two - but not on RegionsAir.

The executive director of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport said Thursday airport officials are operating on the assumption that RegionsAir service, which was suspended March 8, is gone for good after the carrier lost a code-sharing agreement with American Airlines.

But Mark Hanna said negotiations are well along for Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines to take over the AmericanConnection route formerly operated by RegionsAir. A Great Lakes representative also confirmed plans to pick up the Springfield service.

"It's pretty definite they're not coming back," Hanna said of RegionsAir.

Representatives of the Tennessee-based carrier said shortly after flights were suspended that they hoped to have their fleet back in the air by the end of March. But company president Doug Caldwell said in response to e-mailed questions this week that a date for resumption of business remained uncertain.

The airline voluntarily grounded its aircraft twice within two weeks in late February and early this month after federal regulators raised questions about crew-training procedures. RegionsAir also was harshly criticized in recent weeks by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for canceled flights and a poor on-time record.

American Airlines and Great Lakes are negotiating for resumption of AmericanConnection service to St. Louis provided by Regions-Air from Springfield, Quincy, Decatur and Marion; Burlington, Iowa; and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

AmericanConnection is a commuter brand for American Airlines.

"We're in talks with them right now, trying to figure out how to get service back to all the communities as quickly as possible," said Monica Taylor, director of sales and marketing for Great Lakes.

She estimated service could begin in 30 to 60 days.

The carrier also is in discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration. Regions-Air flights at the Marion, Quincy and Decatur airports were provided through a federal essential-air-service subsidy program.

Taylor said it has not yet been determined how many flights will be provided between Springfield and St. Louis, but they will use the company's 19-passenger turboprops. Great Lakes also operates 30-passenger turboprops in some markets.

RegionsAir had two flights daily when service was halted.

"We've been working with the FAA, American and RegionsAir to try to figure out how to collectively get service up and running as soon as possible. We hope it'll be sooner rather than later," Taylor said.

Local flights would mark a return to the Springfield market for Great Lakes Airlines. The carrier provided service to Meigs Field in Chicago from 1991 to 2001, but dropped flights when the city of Chicago announced plans to close that airport.

RegionsAir picked up the Springfield-St. Louis route after another regional carrier, St. Louis-based Trans States Airlines, dropped it as part of a transition to an all-jet fleet.

Hanna said jet service between Springfield and St. Louis is not economically feasible because of the short distance. But he believes passengers will quickly return to the route if they are assured of reliable service.

"We are preparing contract documents for them (Great Lakes) to expedite the start of service. We don't want to be part of any further delays," he said.

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