Regional airline launching service from Indy with 3 routes

(Photo courtesy of Contour Airlines)

Regional carrier Contour Airlines said Wednesday will relaunch plans to add three new non-stop flights to drive-time markets near Indianapolis—nearly a year and a half after its plans were derailed by the pandemic.

Smyrna, Tennessee-based Contour said it will have nonstop routes to Milwaukee, Nashville and Pittsburgh starting Oct. 12. It’s the only airline expected to serve those particular markets with nonstop flights and will do so year-round, airport and company officials said.

The company initially said in February 2020 it would launch flights by that June, as well as establish an aircraft base at Indianapolis International Airport by the end of 2023, but all of those plans were sidelined just weeks later by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We just wanted to make sure that we waited for the right moment to bring the service back,” said Matt Chaifetz, CEO of Contour. “We’ve seen a tremendous return in demand, and I believe the timing of the launch of service, in October, will coincide with even more people returning to the office environment, so we expect further upticks in business travel.”

In fact, the airline selected its initial markets from a list of eight that also included locations like Raleigh, N.C.; Memphis; Kansas City, Missouri; and Cleveland. Contour withdrew considerations for service to St. Louis after Southwest announced an identical route last year, which is set to start in November.

Instead, Contour is focusing on markets within a long drive of Indianapolis that might be less appealing for customers looking to travel within the region.

Marsha Stone, senior director of commercial enterprise, said the deal with Contour marks a significant step for the airport as it tries to fill the needs of those customers.

“We needed to find the right carrier with the right aircraft and the availability to make that work, so we’re excited about this new offering,” she said.

Contour will serve the Indianapolis market with a fleet of 30-seat ERJ-135/145 aircraft, including two permanently housed in Indianapolis. Fares for the airline generally run below $300, Chaifetz said.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Corporate Flight Management Inc., which does business as Contour Airlines, up to $1.5 million in the form of a “minimum revenue guarantee.” As an inducement for Contour to launch and maintain its flights, the state has agreed to provide up to $1.5 million if Contour doesn’t meet certain revenue goals.

Conversations with the IEDC and the airport about jumpstarting service in Indianapolis resumed about midway through 2020, said Chaifetz.

It was not immediately clear whether Contour plans to move ahead with establishing a base at the airport. Contour does plan to create more than 20 jobs to support its Indy operations.

Contour, founded in 2016, employed 380 people in 2020, with service in 18 cities in the United States.

With the addition of the flights, Indianapolis International will offer 47 non-stop flights by the end of the year, including more than one dozen seasonal locations.

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17 thoughts on “Regional airline launching service from Indy with 3 routes

  1. About 5-10 years ago a similar airline (One Jet, I think?) had the exact same routes and failed. Pittsburgh and Milwaukee are intriguing, but is there really enough demand? I can’t imagine how Nashville, at 4 hours away works. With airport time on both ends, there is no way you are getting there quicker, but adding expense, hassle, and the chance for cancelled and delayed flights.

    1. One Jet was more of a pseudo private jet airline and less of a “regional airline”, if I remember correctly.

    2. @Robert, agree somewhere around 10 seats. I know people who used it and it was a good experience and got you there in an hour. Question is; if they couldn’t consistently fill 10 seats and be sustainable, how is a carrier with larger planes going to do it?

  2. I can’t anticipate flying to Nashville for anything. Milwaukee might make sense because driving through Chicago is a real pain, and Pittsburgh definitely makes sense.

  3. It is not so much about “saving time” as it is about relieving the stress that results from sharing the road with speeding 18-wheelers, wannabe stock car racers, and geezers who also should be flying instead of driving.

  4. “The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Corporate Flight Management Inc., which does business as Contour Airlines, up to $1.5 million in the form of a “minimum revenue guarantee.” As an inducement for Contour to launch and maintain its flights, the state has agreed to provide up to $1.5 million if Contour doesn’t meet certain revenue goals.”
    What a deal for them!

    1. Yes. Why doesn’t IDEC support other modes of transportation, such as Amtrak’s Hoosier State line to/from Chicago? The State should look to invest in infrastructure to improve this service.

    2. @Mike The state gave a similar (but much larger) guarantee to Delta in luring the non-stop flights to Paris. The flights were self-sustaining and the state never had to pay any money to Delta.

    3. Chuck, if the State invests in the infrastructure then that 5 hour time can be reduced significantly. Rail can become a viable option. Similar to investments, it’s best to create a portfolio of options – cars, planes, trains – rather than focusing on a single asset.

    4. For sure, Mike. And there are Federal dollars available for such upgrades, just like with highways. Looking at similar services in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as numerous passenger demand studies, such a service would be highly successful and might cover operating costs within a few years of spin-up.

      All of the cities that Contour plans to serve are right in that sweet spot for trains. It’s a little too long to drive but a little too short to fly. Frequent, fast (but not necessarily high-speed), and reliable train service would be a big hit.

    5. There is nothing I’d like more than train travel again to be financially feasible. But, with the exception of areas of the country with high density, it just doesn’t make sense. Amtrak doesn’t consistently lose money because of a lack of investment. Amtrak loses money because of a lack of riders.

    6. My general response is, so what if Amtrak loses money? Highways don’t make money, airports don’t make money, why should passenger trains make money? The corridor services in Illinois and Wisconsin cover almost 90% of their operational costs through ticket sales. That’s better than any other form of subsidized transportation!

    1. Prior to the pandemic, Southwest had non-stop flights between Indianapolis and Kansas City. Those will surely return in the near future.

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