Supporters of intrastate air service who hoped Northwest Airlines would pick up flights ATA Holdings Corp. is discontinuing March 28 might be disappointed.
"We have studied the service and do not believe that non-stop service from these cities into Indianapolis would be economically viable in the long term," said Kurt Ebenhoch, spokesman for Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines.
Airport officials in Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend considered Northwest their best hope of restoring the turboprop service launched late in 2004 that connects those cities to Indianapolis.
Even though Northwest already has four daily flights at Evansville, seven at South Bend and seven at Fort Wayne, it concluded there was neither enough local traffic nor connecting opportunities by adding flights between the airports.
Northwest's regional airline partner also has more lucrative opportunities elsewhere to deploy its 34-seat Saab turboprops, Ebenhoch added.
Northwest in April will eclipse ATA Airlines as the busiest carrier at Indianapolis International Airport. Northwest more than doubled its service here during the fourth quarter, adding 22 nonstop flights to 12 cities and planning to add 13 more flights in the next few months.
Meanwhile, bankrupt ATA, citing eroding profits from the Northwest putsch in its hometown, is pulling all but four flights here and betting its future on Chicago Midway Airport as its hub.
ATA also is attempting to sell its Chicago Express commuter subsidiary.
Both Evansville and South Bend received a $1 million federal grant to help launch service and to help subsidize the flights. Fortunately, they never made payments to ATA, said John Schalliol, executive director of South Bend Regional Airport.
Dejected at ATA's pending discontinuation of service, "quite honestly, we might end up giving it back," he said.
South Bend also will suffer a loss of jobs at an aircraft repair base that for years has maintained ATA's Chicago Express fleet.
The contract with ATA provides for $50,000 in damages if the carrier halted service and "we're going to claim that," Schalliol said.
Bob Working, director of Evansville Regional Airport, said Tennessee-based Corporate Airlines has expressed interest in flying intrastate service. But it would have to spend money to develop a reservations system for the service.