The US has a new low-cost carrier in the north-east, something of a rarity in the post-ValuJet era, but Pro Air will have a tough time establishing itself in a market dominated by Northwest Airlines.

The management of Detroit-based Pro Air has illusions of an easy ride. The airline's president and chief operating officer, Craig Belmondo, says he fully anticipates a whole gamut of competitive reactions. Northwest is already matching its introductory fares and Belmondo believes that from the winter schedule the major will increase frequencies on the routes Pro Air serves: from Detroit to Baltimore-Washington, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Newark.

Pro Air, which is leasing two new Boeing 737-400s, is operating out of Detroit/City airport, which, as the name suggests, is closer to the city than Detroit/Metropolitan used by Northwest and other carriers. Although Pro Air is the lone scheduled carrier at the airport, Belmondo says the lack of congestion and proximity to the city are 'tremendous advantages.' The business plan envisages moderate growth over the next three years, both in fleet size and network, with Detroit/City staying the focal point.

Talks are taking place with Business Travel Contractors Corp, a Fortune 500 companies' pressure group, which is campaigning to change the way US carriers set business fares. 'We are looking to see what common interests we might pursue,' says Belmondo.

Detroit, the seventh largest city in the US, has a pent-up demand for low-cost competition, says Belmondo. Analysts agree, but point out that the majors have learned the lesson of ignoring low-cost startups at their peril.

Karen Walker

Source: Airline Business