Illinois Airport Boardings Dive; Loss of ATA Blamed

The number of passengers flying out of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport fell in 2005 to its lowest level since 2001.

The decline was expected after ATA Chicago Express ended service to Springfield a year ago. The number of travelers on outgoing flights fell from 113,623 in 2004 to 83,094 in 2005, Eric Frankl, executive director of the airport, said Wednesday.

Of the more than 30,000 fewer passengers last year, Frankl estimated that 27,000 were because of the loss of ATA while 3,000 fewer people traveled on the other airlines.

Without ATA serving the airport, Frankl said, "the other airlines raised their fares, which meant their passenger count went down, too."

Springfield was one of a number of cities where the parent company, Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines, ended service as part of a bankruptcy reorganization.

"It goes without saying that we're disappointed with the loss of ATA and the loss of our ability to support our passengers in Springfield," Frankl said.

With many airlines in bankruptcy, replacing ATA will be a challenge, he added.

The only way communities of Springfield's size are getting new air service is by offering incentives, he said. Ideally, those incentives would be in the form of cash from local businesses, Frankl said.

But Frankl wants to wait for the airline industry to stabilize before approaching businesses about offering incentives.

"Right now, with the airlines so much in bankruptcy, it's very difficult to make the argument that we're going to pay an airline that's in bankruptcy," Frankl said.

Meanwhile, Brad Warren of the Economic Development Council for Springfield and Sangamon County said Wednesday that support for the airport is one of the EDC's priorities for 2006.

The council is a joint venture of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the city and the county.

"Air service, especially with the promise of growth in our tourism industry, is just critical," said Warren, vice president of the chamber.

Businesses and government pledged to travel out of the Springfield airport in a campaign that helped bring ATA to Springfield back in 2001. Northwest Airlines started service to Memphis, Tenn., at about the same time, but dropped the flights after 14 months because of too few passengers.

"I don't know that that style of incentive is desired now in the industry," Warren said. "This time around, they may be seeking cash. What form that would take is a topic of creative discussion."

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