It’s time to make or break our nonstop service to New York
By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
Sometimes people miss an important chance to help mold a region’s economic history because they think their contribution would be insignificant, or they fail to realize the time to act is upon them.
Area economic development and airport officials made an effort at Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s annual air service update to ensure no one misses the opportunity to support the service United Airlines launched last year between Fort Wayne International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
The facility in Newark, N.J., is among three major airports serving New York City. Fort Wayne can continue to offer nonstop service there if a handful of business travelers in the tri-state region who already flying to New York switch to Newark instead of using La Guardia or John F. Kennedy airports.
“Right now, 58 percent is our load factor on United into Newark, so I wanted to use this opportunity to just do a call to action, a call to arms. That has to get better,” Rhett Morgan, director of Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, said during the air service update he presented for Fort Wayne International Airport Nov. 2 at Empyrean Events and Catering in downtown Fort Wayne.
“This 60 percent that we have, I think we can get it to 70, 75. In my airline experience, with one flight a day, that was kind of the sweet spot. And I did the math. You move it up to that, and it’s four or five more people,” he said.
“This is a market that we have to make work. It’s a very lucrative market; it’s a very transparent market. New York City is a big deal. And any time that service goes away, we have to spend five or 10 minutes talking to airlines about why it went away and make sure that their trust and their confidence in our market in general is not hurt by that.”
Denver is among northeast Indiana’s most popular business travel destinations unserved by a nonstop flight from Fort Wayne, and United Airlines has a hub there, Morgan said.
“One of the first things, if we go talk to them about Denver is, there’s going to be a question about Newark. So I go back to this, full circle. If we can make Newark work, our case is even better for Denver,” he said.
Airlines can not afford to be patient for long with the development of new service. Morgan said starting pilot pay has doubled in the last three years, jet fuel prices have increased and all of the largest carriers are replacing aging fleets of small regional jets known in the industry for high operating costs.
Newark is a great alternative into Manhattan, and for some business travelers in the tri-state region, using the nonstop flight to it from Fort Wayne has just been a matter of realizing that the option is there, he said.
More business travelers from the region destined for New York began using Newark Liberty International after United started offering nonstop service there from Fort Wayne. And promotional efforts of FWA officials also have helped the route’s traffic, Morgan said.
But United has information showing the service still has only 60 percent of the traffic to New York out of the FWA market, which he said is not enough to sustain it.
Newark can serve as a connection, and some leisure travelers flying to the Caribbean out of Fort Wayne have used it for that purpose.
But, even if it requires overcoming the pull of an airline loyalty program, persuading business travelers headed for New York to use the nonstop service instead of another carrier’s presents the best chance for its success, Morgan said.
“If you have the ability to be influential with your organizations or your friends and family, the time is now,” he said.
FWA is in competition with airports across the country for use of the regional jet flying between the city and Newark, and “there’s just less and less patience from the airlines who have under performing routes,” Morgan said.
Among all the cities where United offers nonstop service to Newark, Fort Wayne has the lowest load factor, he said. But because the service uses a 50-seat plane, it would not take much each day to change that.