Midwest becomes Republic; chance to regain market share at Milwaukee as LCCs threaten

Image: Milwaukee export Image: Milwaukee culture
Already famous for its household brewing names… …Milwaukee is now also famous for culture (Santiago Calatrava’s Art Museum)

Logo: MidwestGeneral Mitchell International Airport which serves Milwaukee is the home of Midwest Airlines, which has recently been acquired by Republic. With just under eight million passengers in 2008 it is the largest airport in Wisconsin and also serves the northern fringe of Chicago. Midwest Airlines and its partners operating as Midwest Connect handled some 3.76 million passengers at Milwaukee last year making it by far the airport’s busiest airline.

Chart: Milwaukee airport traffic 1988-2008 (Annual passengers millions)
Source: Milwaukee Airport

Midwest Airlines began operating in 1984 as Midwest Express with just two DC9s and grew profitably until recently. The airline has been the subject of various takeover attempts including by AirTran (unsuccessfully in 2005 and 2006) and then by Northwest (successfully) in conjunction with others in 2007. Last month it was announced that Republic Airways Holdings had purchased the airline outright for $31 million. Republic already provides much of the capacity operated by Midwest under the Midwest Connect brand.

Having had to abandon its fleet of fuel-hungry DC9s Midwest Airlines currently operates just nine 717s with other carriers providing the additional capacity. Republic has indicated that it plans to transition Midwest to a single fleet type, replacing its 717s with Embraer 190 aircraft. Republic already operates 12 76-seat Embraer 170s for Midwest and recently announced an agreement to operate twelve 37- to 50-seat Embraer regional jets for Midwest, replacing the 12 50-seat Canadair regional jets operated for Midwest by SkyWest Airlines.

11 routes dropped in 12 months; passengers down 40%

Image: Midwest faces competition from AirTran
AirTran coming up from behind. In May 2009 Midwest Airlines and Midwest Connect combined handled 231,938 passengers at Milwaukee, representing 37.5% of the airport total. AirTran having added new daily flights to Denver, Minneapolis / St Paul, St Louis and Tampa now has a 20% share of the airport’s traffic.

This July, according to OAG data, the airline is operating non-stop to 27 destinations from Milwaukee. However, since last July it has dropped 11 destinations, most of which were served by Midwest Connect. Airports no longer served are Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Hartford (BDL), Louisville (SDF), Muskegon (MKG), Raleigh/Durham (RDU), St. Louis (STL), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Toronto (YYZ) and Wausau (CWA).

As a result in May 2009 Midwest Airlines and Midwest Connect combined handled 231,938 passengers at Milwaukee representing 37.5% of the airport total. In May 2008 the corresponding figures were 388,973 and 53.0%.

All of Midwest’s destinations are served at least daily with Boston, Kansas, Minneapolis / St Paul, New York LaGuardia and Washington National all being served with between 30 and 40 departures each week.

AirTran having added new daily flights to Denver, Minneapolis / St Paul, St Louis and Tampa now has a 20% share of the airport’s traffic and is adding daily flights to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in October. Things will get even more interesting when Southwest launches flights to six destinations from Milwaukee for the first time at the beginning of November.

Milwaukee has ‘starchitect’ appeal

Known for many years primarily for its brewing industry (the hometown baseball team are called the Milwaukee Brewers), the selection of world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava to design an extension to the Milwaukee Art Museum has helped put Milwaukee on the global cultural map. The Quadracci Pavilion was opened in May 2001 and has featured as a backdrop in several advertising campaigns, notably for cars.

Image: Midwest replacing 717s with Embraer 190 aircraft
Republic has indicated that it plans to transition Midwest to a single fleet type, replacing its 717s with Embraer 190 aircraft.

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