By Jessica Lowell
CHEYENNE - Great Lakes Airlines has reached a milestone.
In the last several years, company officials have worked to restructure the Cheyenne-based airline and to negotiate new deals with creditors.
With the latest agreement, announced last month, that work is done.
At the same time, the company is extending its reach.
In its annual report to federal securities regulators this week, company officials announced a new codeshare agreement with American Airlines as well as a plan to serve 10 more communities with Essential Air Service subsidies in the Midwest from hubs in Milwaukee, Wis., and St. Louis.
A codeshare agreement allows a regional airline such as Great Lakes to operate as a flying partner for American Airlines, covering regional routes and allowing passengers to collect benefits, such as frequent-flyer miles, for that portion of the trip.
"What does this all mean? There's a tremendous cost-savings involved," vice president and chief financial officer Michael Matthews said Tuesday of the restructuring.
But more importantly, Matthews said, that work was done outside the court system.
"We extinguished our debt on three Embraer aircraft, and we renegotiated our lease agreement with Boeing that showed a gain this year," he said.
And going forward, the new plan will save money on lease payments.
Most of the airline's planes were financed at low rates, but the interest rates crept up to more than 9 percent, he said. Now they have been fixed at 6.75 percent.
With this work done, he said, airline officials are confident that Great Lakes will earn enough money to pay its debts.
The entire airline industry suffered in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many filed for bankruptcy protection so they could restructure; others, like Transworld Airways, were absorbed by other airlines or ceased business.
Great Lakes announced it was relocating from Iowa to Cheyenne in 1999.
Since then, said Wyoming Business Council Chief Executive Officer Tucker Fagan, the company has moved 200 workers to Cheyenne and 50 or 60 into other cities across the state. It also is leasing facilities in Cheyenne and elsewhere.
"With this clean report, it shows they have staying power," Fagan said. "It is being managed well and it's looking at its finances."
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