Toodles Milwaukee

Milwaukee is about to lose the last vestige of its former Midwest Airlines hub.

Republic Airways has applied to the US Department of Transportation to shift its Milwaukee to Washington National slots to Madison and Omaha. With the shift, the carrier’s Frontier Airlines subsidiary will only fly to Cancun, Denver, Orlando and Rhinelander (not sure how long that will last) from the former Midwest strong hold.

060523a_lg.jpgLong gone are Midwest’s former routes from Milwaukee to major business markets around the country, including Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Many of these routes are now served by AirTran Airways and its parent Southwest Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.

What a difference five years make.

AirTran Airways began building up a hub at Milwaukee following its failed takeover of Midwest in 2007. Now, combined with Southwest Airlines who bought the low-cost carrier in 2011, it is the largest carrier at the airport with 3.7 million enplaning passengers, or a 43% market share, during the year ending in 30 June, according to DOT data.

Frontier had a 9% market share with just 797,000 enplaning passengers during the period, according to the DOT. It began cutting flights and staff at Milwaukee in 2011.

A hub is not coming back. Despite AirTran and Southwest’s significant operation at Milwaukee, the carrier’s have already begun shifting routes to smaller Midwestern cities, including Akron-Canton and Des Moines, to its large “hub” – though it does not refer to it as one – at Chicago’s Midway airport, which is only about 140km to the south. The moves suggest that Milwaukee will simply be a large originating and departing market at the combined carrier.

Michael Boyd, chairman of the Boyd Group International, said that Milwaukee has lost its status as a connecting point in the USA and that he anticipates declining passenger enplanement numbers at the airport during the next five years, at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Dallas.

Milwaukee’s loss of its hubs is emblematic of the trends among US airlines during the past decade. It joins a growing list of former rust belt and Midwest hubs, including Pittsburgh, St. Louis and increasingly Cincinnati, that have devolved to simply points in the web of hub and spokes around the USA.

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