Midwest axes one-third of capacity at Milwaukee; AirTran growing fast

Image: Midwest planes at Milwaukee
It was recently announced that Midwest is reducing its capacity at Milwaukee by one-third. A number of services will be axed from 8 September, to counter rapidly rising fuel costs. Midwest will not be re-starting seasonal services to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers, while Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco services from Milwaukee will go via the airline’s other main hub in Kansas City.
Image: Gorman Thomas threw a ceremonial first pitch to launch AirTran’s services from Milwaukee to Los Angeles
Milwaukee Brewer Walk of Fame baseball great Gorman Thomas threw a ceremonial first pitch to launch AirTran’s services from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, which began on 6 May, and San Diego, Boston and Las Vegas, which began on 21 May.

Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) in Wisconsin is just over 100 kilometres from Chicago O’Hare in Illinois and as such could almost be considered a secondary airport for the Chicago metropolitan area. Traffic at the airport has grown from 4.5 million passengers in 1990 to a record 7.7 million last year. Traffic in the first five months of 2008 is up 8.4% thanks in part to AirTran starting eight new routes in May, resulting in airport traffic growing 14.3% that month. However, given that base carrier Midwest Airlines is about to ditch around one-third of its capacity at the airport it may struggle to break through the eight million mark this year.

Milwaukee was for many years the biggest beer producing city in the world and home to four major breweries – Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. Only Miller has survived and beer production now forms only a small part of the local economy, but the local baseball team is called the Milwaukee Brewers and their home stadium is sponsored by Miller. The city’s iconic landmark is now the Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava (Bilbao and Lyon Airport) which opened in 2001.

Chart: Milwaukee airport traffic 1990-2007
Source: Milwaukee Airport

At present Midwest Airlines (which also includes Midwest Connect flights operated by SkyWest Airlines) is the dominant carrier at Milwaukee with around half of all flights and passengers. A total of 38 destinations are currently served non-stop by Midwest from the airport.

Chart: Airlines at Milwaukee airport
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 4 August 2008

Having been unsuccessful in its bid to take control of Midwest, AirTran now operates at least daily to 11 destinations. This May it began operating daily flights to Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington National. Seven of these eight routes were already served by Midwest, San Diego being the odd one out.

The six major US legacy carriers all have a presence at Milwaukee with services to their major hubs, though American (through American Eagle) also has a daily service to Marquette in Wisconsin. Frontier has thrice-daily flights to Denver but neither Southwest nor JetBlue has a presence at the airport. Failed LCC Skybus did operate daily flights to Columbus from December 2007 until it collapsed in April 2008.

Image: The new 61,000 square foot eight-gate addition to Concourse C at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport
The new 61,000 square foot, eight-gate addition to Concourse C at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport welcomes travellers with upgraded amenities and new food and retail outlets.

Midwest reducing capacity by over 30%; axing several destinations

Image: Midwest Destinations
Click to enlarge

It was recently revealed that Midwest Airlines (which operates a fleet of MD80s and 717s) and Midwest Connect (which operates 21 50-seat CRJ 200s) would be axing a number of services from 8 September, to counter rapidly rising fuel costs. Midwest will not be re-starting seasonal services to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers, while Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco services from Milwaukee would now go via the airline’s other main hub in Kansas City. However, Northwest (which is now a part-owner of Midwest) will start non-stop services to Los Angeles on 8 September. AirTran will launch Fort Lauderdale flights from 20 November to replace the ‘lost’ Midwest service.

Midwest Connect will be dropping services to seven airports – Baltimore/Washington, Hartford, Louisville, Muskegon, Raleigh/Durham, St Louis and Wausau. This will reduce the number of destinations served non-stop by Midwest from 38 to 28. Weekly departures will be reduced by 28%, while capacity will fall 34%. Only St Louis will not lose its connection to Milwaukee as American will continue to operate this route.

International scheduled services at the airport are currently limited to just Toronto, which is served by both Air Canada and Midwest. Both airlines operate twice daily using 50-seat regional jets.

Image: Milwaukee’s Museum of Art designed by Santiago Calatrava
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Milwaukee’s Museum of Art designed by celebrated ‘starchitect’ Santiago Calatrava, who has designed airport infrastructure for Bilbao and Lyon airports.

Air fares below national average

Air fares at Milwaukee fell during 2007, at least compared with the national average. According to US DOT fare data ‘long-haul’ routes are better value for money than ‘short-haul’ routes.

As AirTran’s presence grows and Midwest consolidates it will be interesting to see if fares continue to fall.

Period Fare Premium
All Markets
Fare Premium
Short-Haul
Fare Premium
Long-Haul
2007 Q1 +1% +16% -8%
2007 Q2 -3% +8% -9%
2007 Q3 -3% +7% -9%
2007 Q4 -4.7% +4.6% -9.7%
Source: US DOT Office of Aviation Analysis

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