Service at Waterloo, Iowa, Airport Will Likely Remain Stable

Nov. 7--WATERLOO -- With bankruptcies surrounding air service by Waterloo's only commercial air carrier, airline analysts have some good news and bad news for the airport.

On one hand, current air service out of Waterloo looks stable, despite the airport having one less flight per day during the winter months. On the other hand, residents shouldn't be too hopeful that service will be expanded any time soon.

It has been nearly two months since Northwest Airlines, Waterloo's commercial air carrier, filed for bankruptcy. One month later, Mesaba Airlines, which operates the aircraft out of Waterloo for Northwest, also filed for bankruptcy protection.

Service in Waterloo has continued almost as scheduled. The airport typically loses a daily flight as the off-peak flying season starts, but this year, the airport dropped from six daily flights to four.

Still, the Waterloo Regional Airport doesn't appear to be in any danger of additional flights being dropped.

"Everybody go back to sleep. Airport service will continue on," said Mike Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, an airline industry consulting firm.

Boyd said that Mesaba's financial woes wouldn't impact the Waterloo airport anyway, since Northwest makes the flying decisions and would find some way to keep service going from the area.

"If Mesaba decides to enter the Port-O-Potty business, you're still going to have air service in Waterloo," Boyd said.

The most notable difference to date has been the removal of an extra daily flight from the airport's schedule. When the airport enters its off season flying period, which is basically the non-summer months, air service at the Waterloo airport drops from six daily flights to five.

This year, the number dropped to four.

The move came as part of a plan by Northwest to cut operating costs while the company tries to emerge from bankruptcy. Similar cuts were made at several other airports across the country.

Bob Mann, president of aviation consulting firm R.W. Mann & Co., said such moves are standard when a company faces financial difficulties.

"Once a stable cost structure is ensured, then the company can begin turning its attention to expansion," Mann said.

Brad Hagen, Waterloo Regional Airport's manager, said current efforts have been to work with Northwest on flight availability and pricing.

"Next quarter, there will be more effort to see what additional air service we can get," Hagen said.

Hagen said several months if not years of networking and developing relationships before additional service becomes a reality. The networking, coupled with the airline industry's current situation, provides reason for people to temper expectations for more service.

"It's just very difficult for small markets to expand service right now," Hagen said.

Boyd agreed, saying the status of the airline industry makes it impractical. "It would be very difficult to get another airline to find it economical to fly you to one of their other hubs," he said.

Which is why so much effort has been put into building a relationship with Northwest. Hagen said that would continue.

"I would emphasize that Northwest is the one we will spend the majority of time with," Hagen said.

The last two times flights were added to the airport's schedule they have been financially backed by the city. Mann said that route may not even be available anymore.

"What was acceptable in 2002, 2003 and 2004 is perhaps no longer the acceptable threshold level. It simply won't make the cut for that," Mann said.

Another possibility could be having Northwest install flights to different destinations. Northwest's main connecting hub is Minneapolis, which is Waterloo's only destination. But the airline also has hubs in Detroit and Memphis.

Boyd doesn't see adding flights to other Northwest hubs as being a great benefit to Waterloo. For example, Cedar Valley companies don't do enough business in the automotive industry to merit a direct flight to Detroit, meaning a flight added to the Motor City would simply be for connecting purposes.

"Everything they would do going to Detroit or Memphis, they can do going out of Minneapolis, so why would they add flights to other hubs?" Boyd said.

Mann said he doesn't believe Northwest will keep Memphis as a hub, which would further limit Waterloo's expansion options.

"I think you'd continue to be limited to Minneapolis service," Mann said.

Hagen said getting flight service to Detroit would be more viable than Memphis. Several Waterloo passengers are routed from their connecting flight in Minneapolis to Detroit to finish off their connection. Adding flights to Detroit would take off an extra leg.

"We're trying to make the case to make that happen," he said.

Boyd said it couldn't hurt to ask. "Asking is great, but sometimes, accepting the answer is too," he said.