New Carrier Lands at Decatur Airport in Illinois

Travelers who take to the air when leaving town this weekend might notice a few changes when boarding their flight at Decatur Airport.

RegionsAir officially took over operations today of the aircraft that still bear the name American Connections.

Travelers now have a choice of four flights a day in and out of Decatur Airport, compared to the previous three.

However, for some people, changes in scheduling and a switch from jets to smaller, turboprop planes have downsides.

"I think the time of the flights that have changed will not be conducive for business travelers, and trying to catch our connecting flights will be a problem," said Kenneth Raymond, who works for UPSin Decatur but lives in South Lake, Texas.

Raymond has been on special assignment for the company since November and leaves on the 7:07 a.m. flight every Monday out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport into St. Louis and arrives in Decatur by 10:50 a.m.

On Friday, Raymond catches the 5:11 p.m. flight out of Decatur into St. Louis, with barely enough time to catch the 7:27 p.m. flight back to Dallas.

With the changes, Raymond said he is looking at revising his work week.

Johnna Smith lives in Tulsa, Okla., and makes frequent business trips to Decatur. She buys the xanthan gum ingredient made by Archer Daniels Midland Co. for a product her company makes.

Smith normally flies into St. Louis and rents a car to drive to Decatur. But lately, she has found the airfares cheaper to fly straight into Decatur with a connection in St. Louis.

"This flight is already full," she said while waiting to board a flight to head home. "Now, I'm wondering how hard it will be getting a ticket to fly into Decatur with the planes having fewer seats."

RegionsAir's fleet is composed of 19-seat turboprop planes, compared to Trans State Airlines' 30-seat jets.

But RegionsAir President Doug Caldwell said there are seldom more than 20 people on a flight.

"The additional flights will compensate for the demand of flying during peak times," he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded RegionsAir a two-year contract in April to provide air service with an annual subsidy of $1.2 million. This came shortly after Trans State announced it was pulling out of several markets in Central Illinois, including Springfield, Bloomington and Champaign.

But Caldwell sees an exciting future for his company providing air service in Central Illinois.

"This is our first experience with having service in Decatur," he said from his office in Smyrna, Tenn. "It does give us some expansion, and the additional frequency of flights will benefit the community."

RegionsAir has been providing air service out of Quincy since 2000. The company took over operations of American Connections flights out of Springfield's Capital Airport on June 8.

Decatur Airport Director Gene Marcinkowski thinks having flights to St. Louis will give Decatur an advantage.

"People will have to fly out of Champaign or Bloomington to go to Chicago. O'Hare (International Airport) is still considered the most congested airport in the country," he said.

The bottom line is that airline travelers will have choices, Marcinkowski said, despite the fluctuating price of airline tickets because of fuel costs.

"We are just hoping to see an increase in the usage of flights and passengers out of Decatur," said Jack Kenny, president of the Decatur Park District board. "And there is still the possibility of us having service into Midway" in Chicago.

At first, Kenny thought some people might have apprehensions about flying on a 19-seat aircraft with RegionsAir. "Their safety and on-time performance record has been good over the past years, and the frequency of flights should fit passengers' schedules better."

Passengers, meanwhile, will notice the same employees working behind the counter at Decatur Airport.

"We did have that option to transfer with Trans State or stay here in Decatur," said Tracie Roth, who has been manager for American Connections for the past five years. "I think everyone here was excited we were offered jobs to stay."

Roth said the transition should be seamless and passengers won't notice any difference in service.

"We will still be here, wearing the same uniforms," Roth said.

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