Northwest Again Cuts Back Flights at Milwaukee's Airport

Northwest Airlines Corp., the second-largest carrier at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport, will continue to reduce flights from Milwaukee, with additional cuts scheduled to take effect in January, an airline spokesman said Tuesday.

As of Jan. 4, Northwest will no longer offer non-stop service from Milwaukee to LaGuardia Airport in New York and Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said. Those flights had been offered through Northwest Airlink, the regional carrier affiliated with Northwest Airlines.

The reductions come after earlier cutbacks by Northwest Airlines at Mitchell and other airports. The reductions are part of Northwest's reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and are designed to meet Chief Executive Officer Doug Steenland's goal of trimming unprofitable flights.

The reductions will likely benefit Oak Creek-based Midwest Air Group Inc., the corporate parent of Midwest Airlines Inc. and its regional carrier, Midwest Connect. Midwest Airlines/Midwest Connect is the dominant player at Mitchell, with a 49.2% market share.

With the latest Northwest reductions, Midwest will be the only carrier that flies non-stop from Milwaukee to LaGuardia and Reagan National.

That might give Midwest an opportunity to raise fares on those two routes, both of which are popular with business travelers, said Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group Inc., an aviation consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo.

"If they can, they will," Boyd said.

But Boyd said there might be other alternatives for southern Wisconsin travelers, such as the newly announced American Eagle service from Madison's Dane County Regional Airport to LaGuardia. Also, Continental Airlines offers non-stop service from Mitchell to Newark, N.J., a destination often used by people traveling to New York, and Northwest will continue offering one-stop service to New York and other destinations through its hubs.

Fares, however, are generally moving up nationally, mainly because of an overall decline in seating capacity among U.S. carriers, said Carol Skornicka, Midwest Air Group senior vice president of corporate affairs. She declined to comment on specific routes but said Midwest hopes fares will generally increase in order to help the financially stressed airline industry.

With the cutbacks, Northwest will offer 18 daily non-stop departures from Mitchell to six cities, including the airline's hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Memphis, Tenn., Ebenhoch said. Northwest also will continue to offer non-stop service to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Orlando, he said.

As of Oct. 31, Northwest dropped non-stop service from Mitchell to Boston, Denver, Kansas City and Toronto. The airline made other cutbacks in August.

In 2002, before Northwest expanded at Mitchell, it offered 16 daily departures. By this summer, that number was up to 38 daily flights, part of Northwest's "heartland strategy" of offering more flights from Midwest destinations, such as Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

But high fuel costs, industry overcapacity and the growth of low-cost carriers such as AirTran Airways Inc. and Frontier Airlines Inc., have hurt the financial performance of many Northwest flights.

Northwest will continue to emphasize its global scope, including connections through its hubs, Ebenhoch said.

As Northwest and other carriers cut flights, industry analysts expect a reduction of airline seating capacity in 2006 of 2% to 3%, Midwest Air Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Timothy Hoeksema said last week. That tightened supply will provide power to raise ticket prices, he said, and could help some airlines become profitable.

Midwest Air has taken steps to cut costs but also will continue to boost revenue by adding flights, with an expected capacity increase of 16% in 2006, following a 21% capacity increase in 2005, Hoeksema told Milwaukee Press Club members.

Midwest Airlines and Midwest Connect offer around 140 departures to 42 cities.

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