The Midwest/AirTran takeover battle is getting more and more spirited, and that's a polite way of saying its getting dirty. The other day, AirTran promised to build up its Milwaukee operation if it wins its $345 million takeover for Midwest; Midwest chief executive Tim Hoeksema said he would set the record straight on AirTran promises and got quite pointed in the analysis, accusing AirTran of breaking promises left right and east and west. AirTran, he said, had made promises to communities such as Dallas/Fort Worth that it would come in strong and stay strong, only to pull down flights; this, the Midwesterners argued, proved that AirTran at best over-promised and at worst had left a "trail of broken promises".
Well, AirTran has found one defender, and an unsolicited one at that, in Fred Krum, the genial director of the Akron/Canton Airport in North-eastern Ohio. Fred called up AB to tell us that AirTran was run by "honourable guys and great partners. They have kept their word to us on everything they've promised and they have been great to work with." AirTran is the largest airline at CAK, as the airport is dubbed in its FAA code, and is largely responsible for making the airport a strong and surprisingly successful competitor to the giant Cleveland Hopkins airport just 50 miles away. "They've made this airport", Fred says, noting that none of the AirTran routes had been subsidised.
Fred has a blog (www.akroncantonairport.com) in which he makes an interesting point about the airline/airport relationship: "We have never interpreted starting a new market from CAK as a guarantee to continue it forever. Sometimes they don't work. The only guarantee we have from each other (airline and airport) is the promise for both of us to work hard to make it work. AirTran has always done this. Making air service a success is the obligation of both the airport, the community and the airlines. The airline bears all the risk if it doesn't work out. If the community doesn't support the service, then who didn't deliver on the promise, the airline or the community? No airline has a duty to continue something that loses money".
And Fred stressed that no one at AirTran asked, sought or solicited his help in the dogfight. CAK went so far as to put a statement out there on the Web, noting that it wasn't taking a position on the merger proposal, but just wanted to set the record straight on how one airline sets the record straight. From our point of view, taking a stand they way CAK has, or indeed the way the Milwaukee community has, is the way an airline relationship with its airport and its home town is supposed to work, and maybe standing up for what you believe is as important as what you believe.