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Small airlines and the airport directors who love them

Small airlines and the airport directors who love them

Old Aug 6, 06, 12:23 pm
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Rockford, Il
Posts: 115
Small airlines and the airport directors who love them

HonestABE recently posted an article in the United forum that bought up the fact that ABE has been giving incentives to small airlines to fly to leisure destinations such as SFB and LAS. This stood out to me because RFD had done the same thing (giving huge incentives to small airlines to fly to SFB and LAS). Is this a good thing, attracting new business to new routes, or does the instability act as a deterrent to other, more established airlines?

To show you what I mean, let me give you some background on RFD. In the late 90's, anybody who arrived on a Saturday was guaranteed to arrive in the middle of a Wedding reception or anniversary or birthday party or some other event being held at the restaurant that occupied the majority of the second floor of the terminal building, as well as parts of the first floor directly outside the gate area. In 1999, American Eagle operated ~10 round trips daily RFD-ORD (and one DBQ-RFD), Northwest Airlink 3 round trips to MSP, and Skyway (Midwest Express) 4 round trips to DTW (they averaged 50 passengers a day to Detroit.)

Early in 1999, AA announced that they were pulling out of RFD and code sharing with a bus line to operate busses between O'Hare and the Denny's on East State Street in Rockford, which they gave the airport code ZRK. Hilarity ensued when people’s luggage found its way to ZRH.

Between the time AA announced that they were leaving Rockford and the time they actually left, Northwest announced they would begin operating 4 round trips to DTW (I don't remember the exact date). Between mid-1999 and early 2001, Skyway stopped flying from Rockford, and Northwest canceled RFD-MSP. In June 2001, Northwest dropped RFD-DTW, leaving no passenger flights to or from Rockford, save for the occasional diversions from ORD, which always make the local news for some reason.

In 2003, Greater Rockford Airport director Bob O'Brien announced that there was an airline that didn't want to name itself interested in flying from Rockford to LAS and SFB a few times a week, but there was a catch: The citizens of Rockford had to donate $250,000 for an advertising campaign for "Airline X". Many publicity stunts followed to get people to donate money to "Airline X", including the one I will never shut up about when Bob O'Brien sat on the roof of a gas station with a bullhorn. After raising the bribe money, TransMeridian Airlines outed itself as "Airline X" and began less than daily flights to LAS and SFB.

On the week of January 31, 2005, Hooters Air began operating out of Rockford to Atlanta 4 times a week, Denver 4 times a week, and Las Vegas 2 times a week (the press release is still on the airport website). The airport waived fees and gave a $2 million guarantee to protect Hooters Air from losses on the routes.

On May 3, 2005,Northwest began flying to DTW. Again. This time, however, they only flew twice a day instead of 4. Northwest got $2.8 million in revenue guarantees.

Around this time, I took my first flight out of RFD since 1999, because the person who made my reservations for me never consulted me. I was supposed to return to RFD From Atlanta on a Friday, but because things didn't go as planned, that didn't happen, and I wound up taking American to O'Hare and taking the bus from ORD to Rockford (the bus is no longer code sharing with American, and has an actual bus station behind the Denny's), and a cab to RFD. One thing I learned on this trip was that Hooters Air operated TMA’s flights to SFB. So basically you would buy a ticket on TransMeridian, get on a plane that said Hooters, and was operated by Pace Airlines. This wouldn't last.

On September 29, 2005, TransMeridian declared chapter 7 bankruptcy. Allegiant Air began flying to LAS on November 5, and SFB on December 15, 2005.

On November 5, United announced it would begin flying to DEN twice a day beginning March 3, 2006 (I know that the airport gave United a revenue guarantee, but I can't find out how much). Hooters Air was not happy with this, and announced on December 8 that it was pulling out of RFD on January 5, 2006, just 3 months before they went bust (SORRY!). Northwest discontinued RFD-DTW on January 3, 2006.

On the upside to all this, the restaurant is gone, replaced by more gates. On the downside, those gates sit mostly unused because the airlines that they were mostly built for (TMA, Hooters) no longer exist. 2005 was the airports best year ever in terms of boardings, but they were mostly for airlines that eventually went bankrupt. I wonder if Allegiant has the same fate as TMA and Hooters Air (and Southeast, which had the same general buisness plan as TMA and Hooters and Allegiant but never served Rockford).

You know, I can't shake this feeling that when I set out to write this, I had a point.
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