Fort Wayne’s Winning Hand

March 2nd, 2015

News Coverage:

Fort Wayne's Winning Hand

New routes increase capacity by 24.8 percent and traffic by 7.4 percent, making Fort Wayne International Airport a winner in the high-stakes game to attract air service

Airport Business, February/March 2015

by Ronnie L. Garrett

Not all risks are created equal; risks can be good or they can be very, very bad. But playing it safe in order to maintain status quo and avoid problems can also be foolish—particularly when running a small to mid-size airport.

Across the country, airlines have slashed service or eliminated long-haul nonstop routes. In fact, the Government Accountability Office reported in May 2014 that since 2007 nearly three-dozen mid-sized airports lost 25 percent of their flights, 76 small airports lost 20 percent of their flights, and 23 airports lost their air service altogether.

When it comes to air service it’s no longer acceptable to play it safe. As a result many airports are taking a gamble and using financial incentives to encourage airlines to add flights. And when their efforts succeed, the payoff—for airlines and airports alike—can be quite large.

Fort Wayne International Airport is just one winner in the high-stakes game to attract air service. In late November, this airport announced its passenger traffic rose 7.4 percent and its seating capacity by 24.8 percent since November 2013. And, while other airports of the same size had airline flights leave, the airport saw American Airlines and US Airways launch new flights from Fort Wayne to Philadelphia and Charlotte; United Airlines increase its daily flights to Chicago; and Delta Air Lines bring in larger CRJs to serve Atlanta. At the close of 2014, enplanements hit 324,151 and the number of flights reached 156.

Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, attributes this growth to a thriving partnership between the airport and community leaders, who banded together to support new air service through an aggressive incentive program, where the Fort Wayne community made $2 million in incentives available in the form of a minimum revenue guarantee to the first airline that added a new nonstop route.

Mead & Hunt Senior Air Service Consultant Jeffrey Hartz, who worked with Fort Wayne on its new incentive strategy, says this type of program is exactly what airlines need to see as they consider adding routes. Communities, he says, need to get some skin in the game—and that’s exactly what the Fort Wayne program has done by helping front airlines’ start-up costs as they add new routes.