Hooters Flights Unlikely to Return to Rickenbacker, Columbus

Mar. 21 -- The future of Hooters Air in Columbus looks bleak.

More than three months after "seasonal adjusments" halted service from Columbus and other cities until March, Hooters flights have not resumed at Rickenbacker Airport.

Some other airports have publicly doubted the airline's return, and Hooters officials have not returned calls from Rickenbacker.

Meanwhile, customers can't buy tickets to or from Columbus, and Rickenbacker no longer appears on Hooters' Web site among a list of airports the company serves.

"I'd say a return to service is unlikely, but I haven't ruled it out either," said David Whitaker, vice president of business development at Rickenbacker Airport. "We can't get any confirmation one way or the other from the airline."

In December, Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Hooters announced it would temporarily cut flights, citing fewer passengers in winter and high fuel costs. Before the announcement, Columbus passengers could fly non-stop to Myrtle Beach, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Gary, Ind.

Without Hooters Air, Rickenbacker has no regular passenger service. Southeast Airlines pulled out after declaring bankruptcy, and Pan Am Clipper Connection canceled service last fall.

"The only thing we have remaining now are some periodic ad hoc charters," Whitaker said. "We're still recruiting airlines. But to not have the service is a setback for us."

Rickenbacker saw passenger totals drop sharply last year. Meanwhile, the amount of cargo going through Rickenbacker continued to increase.

"It's premature to declare an end to the kind of service that Pan Am and Hooters and South- east provided," Whitaker said. "But certainly, there aren't that many options in that niche."

Mark Peterson, Hooters Air president, did not return calls. Media reports in other cities cast doubt on the future of the airline, which offered Hooters girls in tank tops serving passengers food and drinks.

Hooters acquired Pace Airlines in 2002, and launched Hooters Air the following year. The new airline doubled as promotion for Hooters restaurants, and began service in Columbus in December 2003.

Airline leaders might decide to re-adopt Pace's model as a charter without regular flights, said Mike Boyd, an aviation analyst in Colorado.

"Hooters is maybe tired of the cost of flying billboards across the country," he said.

"It looks like Hooters was a great experiment, but now they're pulling the plug."

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