Springfield Underwriting RegionsAir to Maintain American Connection

The Springfield Airport Authority's offer to pay some of RegionsAir's startup costs helped clinch the deal to bring the airline to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The airport announced Monday that a partnership had been reached with RegionsAir of Smyrna, Tenn., to preserve American Airlines commuter service between Springfield and St. Louis when another commuter airline pulls out June 7.

For the first year that RegionsAir serves Springfield, the airport will pay the salaries of employees working at the counter and handling baggage on the ground, said Eric Frankl, executive director of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Usually, airlines pay those employee costs.

The airport also will buy some equipment, such as plastic tubs used for moving baggage, Frankl said, adding that the total cost of salaries and equipment still is being tallied and will depend on the number of employees hired.

"Anytime a new airline starts, they have a lot of new startup costs - new equipment to bring in, new people," Frankl said Tuesday.

Ground-crew employees being laid off by the outgoing carrier, Trans States Airlines of St. Louis, can apply for jobs with RegionsAir, Frankl said.

RegionsAir is scheduled to begin AmericanConnection service to St. Louis on June 8, one day after Trans States departs. St. Louis-based Trans States is upgrading its fleet from 30-seat turboprops to 50-seat jets and says it would lose money providing jet service between Springfield and St. Louis.

After RegionsAir's first year of serving Springfield, the airline is to take over paying the ground employees, Frankl said.

The airport's offer of incentives showed that Springfield really wanted to keep American Airlines service, said a staffer for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield.

Durbin's staff facilitated discussions among American Airlines, RegionsAir, Frankl and Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin's office.

In a written statement announcing the deal Monday, Durbin said that "Springfield's airport is vital to the transportation needs of the community, tourism, and Illinois government."

American is one of two airlines serving Springfield, along with United Express.

Frankl said he hopes also to make a similar offer to United to temporarily pay for airport employees.

Right now, United has its own employees and equipment. But Frankl thinks that eventually one staff could serve both airlines on the ground and the airlines could share the cost once the airport ceases paying it.

The Springfield Airport Authority is the taxing body that operates the city's airport. The SAA receives about a third of its income from taxes and two-thirds from tenants at the airport, Frankl said.

The airport has used incentives in the past to attract air service.

In 2000, local government and business leaders pledged millions of dollars' worth of business to air carriers if they would agree to serve Springfield.

Two new carriers, ATA and Northwest Airlines, did come to Springfield in 2001. The competition lowered fares and boosted passenger traffic.

However, Northwest dropped service between Springfield and Memphis, Tenn., after 14 months because of too few passengers. ATA pulled out of Springfield in January 2005 as part of a bankruptcy reorganization.

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