Flights from Fort Wayne on the rise

July 4th, 2014

News Coverage:

Flights from Fort Wayne on the rise

Passenger boardings nearly hit 300K in 2013

Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:00 am, Fri Jul 4, 2014.

By Doug LeDuc

Getting American Airlines and Delta Air Lines to increase their scheduled service out of Fort Wayne may rank as one of the year’s more impressive accomplishments for all area groups involved in air service development, a consultant said.

“It absolutely is not typical for an airport, in the current environment we’re in, to be able to bring in new service like this,” said Jeffrey Hartz, a senior consultant with Madison, Wis.-based Mead & Hunt, who advises airports across the country on air service development.

“It’s just challenging, especially for smaller communities. Fort Wayne is obviously a big town, a big city, but in the pond that is the airline industry, there’s a lot of growth in the big cities like Dallas and Chicago … but there’s a lot of shrinkage in cities like Fort Wayne.”

Establishing a revenue guarantee pool was a key to attracting additional scheduled service, as was increasing the number of passengers boarding commercial flights at Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) during the last couple of years while airports at cities of a similar size saw a downward trend in their figures, Hartz said.

The airport reported about 298,660 passengers boarded flights at the airport last year, which was up 5 percent from the previous year and 7.5 percent from 2011. With additional service, the facility can expect passenger boardings to continue to grow.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group owns US Airways Express, which will start offering on Oct. 2 two daily flights between FWA and Philadelphia International Airport and a once-daily flight between Fort Wayne and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

The $2-million revenue guarantee pool was established with a Small Community Air Service Development Grant to support the service to Philadelphia, said Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority.

Matching funds were required to obtain the $600,000 grant. Making it possible were commitments of $50,000 from Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, $100,000 from Indiana Economic Development Corp., $150,000 from Allen County, $500,000 from Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and $600,000 from the City of Fort Wayne.

“The carrier will come in and serve and if the airlines are profitable there will not be a need for them to make a request to offset their operations,” Hinderman said. “If they come in and nobody gets on the aircraft, they will be making a request so they’re not operating at a loss and that opportunity exists for them for a two-year period.”

To increase awareness of the new flights, the airport is launching a marketing campaign which includes social media, he said.

“We do have a strong belief that if we have direct service to the East Coast people will use the service as opposed to driving to a different facility or flying to a different facility to connect,” he added.

Even with the start date months away, area residents are already booking flights out of Fort Wayne to Philadelphia and to points east through Philadelphia, Hinderman said.

“What we are hearing is people have found it and are purchasing through the websites and their travel agencies, and we’re pleased.”

Hinderman said FWA also is pleased to be expanding its scheduled service to Atlanta.

Delta replaced a 50-seat regional jet with a 76-seat regional jet early this month for its midday Flight 4952. The larger regional jet has a dozen first class seats that will be a little larger and provide more legroom.

The first-class service was not requested by the Airport Authority specifically, “but we have had a lot of passengers who come in and out every week who probably are flying first class but just don’t have the first-class option, but they will now,” Hinderman said.

Gaining 26 seats on the midday flight is important because demand is high for service to and from Atlanta, he said. A fourth flight between the cities is being added on Sept. 2. It will use a 50-seat regional jet.

In the coming months, “the most important thing for the people in northeast Indiana and the Fort Wayne area will be to utilize the local airport,” said Hartz, who has become familiar with the market through consulting he has done with FWA.

Delta and American airlines “certainly are ones where if the flights they have in that community do well, they look to add more flights to the community,” he said.

The success of American flights to Chicago and Dallas contributed to its decision to add the flights to Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C., Hartz said.

“A large part of that was the local businesses and the people of northeast Indiana and the airport really working together to promote that service and get as many people on those flights (to Chicago and Dallas) as possible,” he said.

“The old adage is air service is how business is done, and adding more air service, including two world-class hubs that connect people to a new region … hopefully will mean more jobs and more economic development for the community.”