Springfield, Quincy, Decatur and Marion landed RegionsAir commuter service with the aid of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
Now, the carrier is in hot water with the Illinois Democrat.
Durbin released an open letter to mayors in the communities Tuesday - including Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin - criticizing RegionsAir for delays and cancellations on routes to St. Louis, a problem he said has gotten worse in recent months.
"Unfortunately, Regions has failed to provide dependable service in downstate Illinois," Durbin said in the letter.
He sent similar letters to federal transportation officials and executives at American Airlines urging them to consider alternatives to RegionsAir. Durbin pointed out the carrier receives $3.5 million a year through a federal "essential air service" program to provide flights in Decatur, Quincy and Marion.
The federal contracts are scheduled to expire in July. RegionsAir, which operates routes in the four cities through an agreement with American Airlines, started two AmericanConnection flights between Springfield and St. Louis in June.
Durbin said RegionsAir canceled 15.6 percent of flights in November, 27 percent in December and 15.5 percent in January.
"I have worked hard with community leaders to bring air service to our downstate cities. But we cannot build a strong passenger base with an airline that is unreliable," Durbin said in a statement released with the letter.
RegionsAir President Doug Caldwell said the airline, based in Smyrna, Tenn., traditionally has been one of the most reliable in the industry. But he said rising fuel costs have forced the company to delay engine replacements on two of the eight aircraft - seven plus a backup - it normally flies on the St. Louis routes.
"We're close to reaching a financial deal that gives us sufficient cash to get the engines replaced and get the aircraft back up and flying," said Caldwell. "Five airplanes will cover our routes, but it doesn't provide an optimal schedule for all markets and provide spare capacity."
RegionsAir flies 19-passenger turboprops on the St. Louis routes. Caldwell said he understands the frustration, "but prior to this, we had pretty much outstanding reliability."
RegionsAir announced last week it has cut fares to as low as $109 round-trip, plus taxes and fees, on nine St. Louis routes in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky and Tennessee, including Springfield, Decatur, Marion and Quincy.
The airline's director of sales and marketing, Nathan Vallier, said that while RegionsAir has had problems the last few months, it was unfortunate that Durbin chose to go public with his criticism. Vallier said it would be devastating if the communities are forced to switch airlines.
"We have hade some temporary issues, and we're addressing those. Everybody has a little bit of turbulence, and this is our turbulence," he said.
Davlin spokesman Ernie Slottag said the mayor had not yet seen the Durbin letter.
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