Taken from the State Journal Register:
Northwest leaving Capital Airport
By NATALIE MORRIS
Northwest Airlines fell short in Springfield's newly competitive air carrier market and will end service at Capital Airport on Sept. 3.
Capital Airport experienced double-digit increases in passengers throughout the first half of 2002, but Northwest's commuter service, Northwest Airlink, failed to capture a significant number of them.
"The route has sustained losses for more than a year," Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said Tuesday, "and we don't see it turning a profit for a while. We've made the decision to withdraw from the market."
Ebenhoch said the two daily flights between Springfield and Northwest's hub at Memphis, Tenn., will end 141/2 months after the service was started.
The airline will contact ticket-holders to make alternate travel plans. Customers who have not been contacted by the end of the week should get in touch with Northwest or the travel agencies where they booked their flights.
Northwest’s announcement coincided with the release of Capital Airport’s six-month boarding figures, which show 50,214 passengers flew out of the Springfield facility during the first half of the year. That figure represents a 47 percent increase in traffic compared to the same time last year.
At this rate, the airport should easily surpass the 73,936 passengers who flew out of Springfield in 2001. The last time Capital Airport’s annual passenger numbers surpassed those of the previous year was 1993.
Airport executive director Eric Frankl called Northwest’s departure disappointing. But he doesn’t think it will derail Capital Airport’s progress.
“We’re disappointed, to say the least,” he said. “It’s two flights a day. That’s not significant, other than the access it gave us to the Memphis hub.”
Mayor Karen Hasara echoed the sentiment.
“We’re obviously disappointed. Still, I can’t see any reason it should diminish the numbers,” she said. “As long as (American Trans Air) is here, we’ll continue to have a low-fare carrier, we have access to two hubs, and jet service is coming soon.”
United Airlines has committed to replace its turboprop planes with jet service in August.
Both Northwest and ATA began flying out of Capital Airport last summer after a communitywide pledge campaign promised to support the airlines. Northwest’s first Springfield flight was June 15, 2001, after local fliers pledged to do in excess of $1 million worth of business annually with the airline. Actual revenues fell well short of that figure.
ATA numbers also are trailing the community’s initial pledges, but spokeswoman Lisa Jacobson Brown said Tuesday the airline has no plans to leave the Springfield market.
Frankl said Northwest was just starting to build a following locally when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks rocked the entire industry. Northwest cut service from three daily flights to two and never managed to regain momentum, he said.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed businesses that made pledges to fly Northwest. Chamber president Michael Boer said most cited the economic slowdown since Sept. 11 as the reason they didn’t meet their pledges, which were not legally binding.
“I’m disappointed (about Northwest’s departure.) A lot of people did a lot of work to get Northwest to make a commitment to this market,” Boer said. “At the same time, I can’t say it was a surprise. They have to focus on markets that are making a profit, and this one wasn’t.”
ATA and Northwest’s arrival is often credited with creating competitive fares that brought fliers back to Capital Airport. But the newcomers weren’t the ones capturing the bulk of those passengers.
Roughly 3,000 more people flew out of Capital Airport this June than a year ago. American Connection, which formerly flew under the Trans World Express label, claimed up to half of that increase, with 1,600 additional fliers in June 2002 compared to the previous year.
Area leaders agreed that losing Northwest service shouldn’t keep passenger numbers from climbing even higher. But they’ve already lost one.
Roy Zinnen of Springfield planned to fly to Memphis out of Capital Airport. He rerouted his flight out of St. Louis Tuesday after hearing about Northwest’s departure.
“I’m surprised. I thought travel was up and everything was OK,” he said. “I’ll be driving to St. Louis now.”