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"Cincinnati Airport seeks low-cost carriers"
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Airport seeks low-cost carriers
By Steve Ivey
The Cincinnati (OH) Post
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport officials plan to
meet next week with six low-cost air carriers about the possibility of
beginning service at one of the country's highest-fare airports.
Airport spokesman Ted Bushelman confirmed meetings, saying bringing in a
low-cost carrier would help to continue total passenger growth, which
grew by 7 percent from March to April. But, according to a national
study released last week was nearly flat at 2 percent for 2003 compared
"It's something we're always working on," he said.
Bushelman declined to name the six carriers. Representatives from
American Trans Air, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, AirTran Airways
and Frontier Airlines did not return phone messages Tuesday.
Laura Bennett, a spokeswoman for Ft. Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines
Inc., said low-cost carriers' growth has spurred overtures from airport
officials across the country. As far as she knows, there is no meeting
set up between Spirit and Cincinnati airport officials.
She compared boosters' desire for new air service with landing a
high-profile retailer like Nieman Marcus. She said privately held Spirit
has a full-time employee whose sole job is to field calls from assorted
local economic development leaders.
"This happens all the time -- we're constantly getting calls," she said.
Low-cost carriers currently control about a quarter of the U.S. flight
market and are projected to increase than share to 45 percent in the
next five years.
Low-cost carrier Vanguard Airlines, which ceased operations in 2002,
twice failed to penetrate the Cincinnati market, the last time in 2000.
Last year, AirTran listed Cincinnati on its Web site as a potential new
destination but has not moved to site operations here.
The airport is facing great uncertainty about its future, which is
linked to the performance of Delta Air Lines the major carrier out of
the Hebron facility. Delta has in recent weeks hired the Blackstone
Group, a financial restructuring firm and Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law
firm specializing in restructuring in case it should file for Chapter 11
bankruptcy. Delta has lost more than $3.6 billion over the past three
A report from not-for-profit Airport Council International released last
week showed the 2 percent increase in total passengers at the airport in
Hebron from 2002 to 2003. The airport served 21,228,402 passengers in
2003, up from 20,812,642 passengers in 2002.
While that increase is larger than the reported 0.6 increase in total
passengers nationwide, other area airports saw larger jumps in business.
At Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, the number of total passengers
increased by nearly 19 percent over the previous year. And, Blue Grass
had some help from a short-lived relationship with a low-cost carrier.
Low-cost carrier ATA came to Lexington in 2003 but ended service there
last week. when ATA officials reorganized the use of its larger jets and
turbo-prop planes were removed from Lexington to serve flights from
Indianapolis to Chicago.
Tom Tyra, a spokesman for Blue Grass Airport, said about two-thirds of
the airport's growth could be directly linked to what he called "the ATA
effect," of driving other airline fares down.
"Not everyone will match ATA's lower fares, but they will drop a little,
sometimes enough to get people who are on the cusp of driving to their
destination or driving to another airport to stay in Lexington," he
said. "Obviously, people are going to shop around. If they can save
$150, they'll drive the hour and a half."
Many of those people are traveling to Lexington, Louisville and Dayton
from Cincinnati to avoid the steep fares at the Delta hub airport.
Cincinnati trades the "highest fare" honor with the White Plains airport
in upscale Westchester County, N.Y.
Tyra said the remainder of the Lexington passenger growth resulted from
the addition of non-stop Delta flights to New York and Dallas. He said
Delta will also add non-stop flights to Washington, D.C., next week.
But, Tyra said, most of the additional passengers were from the
"The biggest part of that growth was not so much from taking passengers
from other areas, but holding on to the people around here who were
driving to Cincinnati or Louisville for the non-stop flights regardless
of price," he said.
AirTran Airways serves the Dayton International Airport, which saw a
14.1 percent increase in total passengers over 2002.
"We like to tell people to experience the convenience of the Dayton
airport, and it seems like it's working," said Sharon Sears, director of
marketing for the airport. "Everything here is very accessible, and
fares are very competitive right now."
Bushelman credited the April increase in passengers to the economic
"We're more of a business airport," he said. "These businessmen weren't
flying, but they are now."
But Kenton County Judge-Executive Ralph Drees, a former member of the
Kenton County Airport Board, said bringing in a low-cost carrier would
benefit all travelers in Cincinnati.
Last year Drees, with Meyer Tools president Arlyn Easton, led an e-mail
petition to bring AirTran to Cincinnati.
"I think it's a good deal to meet with them," he said. "I think it's a
long shot, but if they get one or two of them in here it could bring
down fares and get more people traveling through here."
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