It was obvious that AirTran Airways’ decision to end flights out of Central Illinois Regional Airport would reduce traffic. And it has: The Pantagraph reports that CIRA saw a 16.3 percent drop in passengers last year. CIRA handled a record 579,265 in 2011, but only 485,285 in 2012.
Yet the loss of AirTran Airways seems to have reduced seating capacity more than demand.
“What we need right now are replacement seats,” said Executive Director Carl Olson. “Our traffic isn’t down because there wasn’t enough of a market; it’s down because there aren’t enough seats to sell.”
One commenter to this article attempted to book through CIRA but due to no available seats, flew out of Peoria. Perhaps airlines have noticed. CIRA attempted to replace AirTran with two new carriers, Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines. The former started twice-weekly nonstops to Sanford, Florida on May 16; the latter started quad-weekly nonstops to Denver on May 18 and tri-weekly nonstops to Orlando on May 25. Without them, there is no doubt that passenger traffic would have plummeted even further.
Frontier has upgraded to a larger aircraft on its Denver flights. On January 7, a 138-seat Airbus A319 replaced a 99-seat Embraer 190. The main reason for the upgrade was that most Embraers 190s were leaving Frontier’s Denver operation. But unlike a few other cities, CIRA generated sufficient traffic to retain service with the larger plane.
Another upgrade starts March 2-3 when one of three CIRA-Atlanta roundtrips will be operated by a 126-seat Airbus A319. The fact that Delta Air Lines itself will be flying out of CIRA is historically significant. AirTran Airways and Frontier Airlines both achieved Major Airline status ($1 billion in annual revenue), but Delta is a legacy carrier, with origins going back to 1924.
CIRA officials see opportunities in 2013.
Among the goals for 2013 is a focus on securing air service to Washington, D.C., or New York using a $500,000 federal grant, said Olson. The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority also designated $200,000 in incentive cash last year for targeted marketing and promotions for new carriers.
CIRA is competing with Champaign-Urbana for similar service, and it’s unlikely both will get it. United Express to Newark (substituting for NYC) or Washington-Dulles is likely what Olson has in mind. Delta Connection to New York-LaGuardia is also a possibility, but this seems less likely. It is also doubtful Delta would want to cannibalize existing service to Detroit (or even Atlanta), which NYC flights would most certainly do.
- David P. Jordan