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All Four Central Illinois Regional Airports on List of Industry ‘Losers’

July 3, 2008

By TIM LANDIS

Regional airports such as in Springfield, Bloomington, Champaign and Peoria are the most likely losers as major airlines continue to cut back, merge and go out of business as a result of high fuel prices.

The gloomy forecast is in a report released Wednesday by the Business Travel Coalition of the 100 regional airports nationwide most likely to lose some or all service as a result of industry turmoil.

All the central Illinois regional airports made the list.

“We have a situation where all the carriers are in trouble. Most will be out of cash by the end of the year or sometime in the first quarter (of 2009),” said Kevin Mitchell, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based business advocacy group.

Mitchell said 250 airports were analyzed nationwide based on proximity to competing airports, frequent fluctuations in service, the mix of leisure and business travelers and reliance on regional jets.

Each of the central Illinois airports is served by regional-jet carriers, which Mitchell said are most affected by the price of crude oil.

“At $130 a barrel, you’re looking at another 20 percent cut (in service), at $200 a barrel, it’s up to 40 percent,” he said, adding that the group is pushing for a congressional investigation into high oil prices, including whether commodity speculators have artificially driven up the cost per barrel.

Release of the survey comes a little more than a week before a 14- month experiment in business connections between Springfield and Washington, D.C., ends with the return of a United Express flight to its original Chicago route.

United Express switched one of five Springfield flights from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to the Washington route last year. In return, the carrier received a $1.4 million revenue guarantee from federal grants, the airport and local business groups.

But the flight never attracted enough passengers to become self- sustaining and will return to the Chicago route on July 4.

Springfield resident Rebecca Schnorf traveled between Springfield and Washington nearly every weekend for several months last year while working in the nation’s capital.

In response to an online reader survey, Schnorf said she liked the idea of a direct flight but preferred connections through Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport via Chicago.

“Unfortunately, since it flew into Dulles as opposed to Reagan, it wasn’t terribly convenient because Dulles isn’t on a train line,” said Schnorf, who is a research assistant for the American Medical Rehab Providers Association in Springfield.

Dulles is about 26 miles from downtown Washington, while Reagan is just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Va. Schnorf said the Springfield flight also was often $50 to $100 more expensive than connecting through Chicago.

Illinois Coal Association president Phil Gonet, who travels between Springfield and Washington two or three times a year, said he liked the convenience of the Dulles flight once he became familiar with the bus-train connections.

“Once you learned the bus schedules, you could usually be in your hotel room three hours after leaving Springfield,” Gonet said.

The Springfield airport has had its share of ups and downs with air carriers – discount carrier Allegiant Air stayed only four months last year before pulling out because of rising fuel costs – but executive director Mark Hanna noted that the coalition report showed all regional airports face similar challenges.

“It states the obvious. In addition to travel, high fuel costs are affecting the whole economy,” said Hanna.

Illinois regional airports on list

* Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, Springfield

* Central Illinois Regional Airport, Bloomington

* Greater Peoria Regional Airport

* Quad-City International Airport, Moline

* University of Illinois-Willard Airport, Savoy

Source: Business Travel Coalition

Originally published by TIM LANDIS BUSINESS EDITOR / tim.landis@sj-r.com.

(c) 2008 State Journal Register. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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