AirTran to bolster Milwaukee in 2009

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Continuing a strategy it started last year, AirTran Airways plans to capitalize on the misfortunes of Midwest Airlines by strengthening its presence at Midwest's Milwaukee hub.

AirTran began its build up in Milwaukee after its unsuccessful takeover attempt of Midwest in 2007. TPG along with Northwest Airlines bought Midwest after the deal closed in early 2008. Later that year TPG agreed to a $60 million financing package for Midwest.

Planned direct flights from Milwaukee by AirTran for the March 2009 schedule include Seattle, San Francisco, Los Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, White Plains, Baltimore and Atlanta. Some of the US West Coast destinations offered by AirTran from Milwaukee are seasonal.

Carrier SVP marketing and planning Kevin Healy says AirTran is adding new service from Milwaukee and plans to make an announcement in "the not too distant future".

Healy highlights an overall seat reduction in the Milwaukee market, pointing out the lack of seats between that market and Chicago in particular.

Midwest has dropped more than one-third of its capacity from Milwaukee, notes AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro, and has cut its mainline aircraft fleet from 30 to just nine. "A carrier known for its premium service is basically a regional carrier," says the chief executive. Fornaro was referring to Midwest's decision in September 2008 to return 16 Boeing 717s to Boeing Capital as it reached a deal with Republic Airways Holdings for the operation of 12 Embraer E-170s by Republic. Midwest has the option to sign long-term leases on the E-170s any time before June 2010. Republic also made a one-year $15 million loan to Midwest.

Commenting on AirTran's opportunities in Milwaukee Fornaro believes there is "tremendous upside potential" in that market.