Delta Flights Concern Illinois Airport Officials

BLOOMINGTON - Central Illinois Regional Airport officials expressed concern Friday about the addition of a daily, round-trip flight from Bloomington to Orlando, Fla., by Delta Air Lines, beginning in May.

Delta officials announced Friday they would add daily air service from May 25 through Sept. 4 at Bloomington, Moline, Rochester, N.Y., Newport News/Williamsburg, Va., and Wichita, Kan.

Flights will leave Bloomington daily at 12:03 p.m. and arrive in Orlando at 3:28 p.m. The return flight will leave Orlando at 10 a.m. and arrive in Bloomington at 11:38 a.m.

"We are perplexed by their decision to duplicate service we already have, especially given what they're going through. Again, this is Delta trying to weaken AirTran and trying to weaken our market. Delta's not interested in growing our market and investing in our community," said Carl Olson, airport executive director.

AirTran represents the airport's No. 1 carrier. In December, 16,743 passengers rode AirTran, compared to 18,187 passengers in December 2004. For the year, AirTran enjoyed a 4.6 percent increase in traffic at the Bloomington airport.

"We are not surprised. These are the last remaining cities served by AirTran that were not served by Delta," said Judy Graham-Weaver, AirTran spokeswoman. "We have no plans for changes at CIRA. We are pleased with the response to the market."

Graham-Weaver further noted that AirTran will remain at CIRA as long as routes are profitable and passengers buy tickets.

At the same time, the airline continuously studies every market, reviewing competition, schedules and fares, she added.

"We're a profitable airline. We're adding 20 percent capacity per year. We have long-term potential," said Graham-Weaver.

Paul Harmon, Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority chairman, said the announcement could mean both airlines could leave CIRA.

Delta began operating round-trip flights to Atlanta from Bloomington in December, which also prompted competition concerns from CIRA officials.

"AirTran is an expanding airline, and they do not have sufficient aircraft to go into all the markets. If Delta cuts too much into AirTran's passenger numbers, AirTran could transfer its assets to another airport," said Harmon.

"Decisions by airlines are based on the bottom line. If AirTran withdraws, Delta could concentrate at another airport. And it won't be us."

Last year, Delta filed for bankruptcy. The airline is attempting to reorganize by selling Atlantic Southeast Airlines to SkyWest.

It also secured $ 2.2 billion in debt financing.

"We get into markets where we see demand and can afford to be," said Delta representative Benet Wilson.

"We are always looking across the network system. Our service to Atlanta at CIRA is doing well. We're pleased."

Wilson would not predict beyond September whether Delta would continue offering daily Orlando service.

The new service will be operated by Delta Connection, which flies 50-seat regional jets.

Reporter Scott Miller contributed to this report.


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