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Coalition: La Crosse Could Lose Airline Service

June 26, 2008

By Steve Cahalan, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jun. 26–La Crosse is among 150 U.S. communities most likely to lose some or all airline service, according to a study done for the Business Travel Coalition.

La Crosse Municipal Airport Manager Dan Wruck said BTC’s announcement Wednesday surprised him. “We’ve had no indication of service cuts by Northwest or American or any of the (commuter airline) partners that Northwest has,” Wruck said.

The study looked at the 250 largest airports and applied criteria such as proximity to other airports, likelihood of being affected by the proposed merger of Northwest and Delta airlines, and service by regional jets, BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell said in a telephone interview.

With staggering fuel prices, regional jets have become the least-profitable equipment for airlines and their feeder carriers to operate, according to the Radnor, Penn.-based BTC.

BTC is calling on Congress to prevent fuel price-driven catastrophic cuts to air service by eliminating manipulation of commodities markets, strengthening the dollar against foreign currencies and giving producers incentives to increase energy supplies and develop new aviation fuels.

In Wisconsin, BTC said, communities most likely to lose some or all airline service are La Crosse, Milwaukee, Madison, Appleton and Green Bay.

During the week, La Crosse has six flights a day on Northwest and its commuter airline affiliates, and five flights provided by American Eagle.

“It’s obviously very difficult to forecast,” Wruck said of the possibility of service cuts this year. “We’re hoping we don’t see that. But it is certainly possible” because of high fuel prices.

“I think it’s a very generic list,” he said of the study. “I don’t think there was much statistical analysis put into the list.”

The number of people boarding commercial flights in La Crosse has increased an average of 2.6 percent a year in the past five years, Wruck said. Last year, 122,429 people boarded commercial flights in La Crosse, up 3.8 percent from 117,899 in 2006, he said.

In the past three months, there’s been a slight decline in boardings compared with the same month a year ago, Wruck said. He attributes that to business and leisure travelers cutting back because of a slower economy.

“It’s important for folks to use the airport (rather than drive to Minneapolis-St. Paul or Madison) and show that the market demand is there, so that we continue to have service,” Wruck said.

Steve Cahalan can be reached at (608) 791-8229 or scahalan@lacrossetribune.com.

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