You cheeseheads may still be hurting from your second Favre-related beatdown this year, but you can rejoice that you now have yet another airline coming to town. SkyWest (yes, the regional airline) will begin flying for AirTran in Milwaukee.
It’s very clear that this is happening because of the AirTran deal, but it’s not your traditional regional contract. Then again, it’s not exactly the “innovative” and “groundbreaking” contract that these guys are proclaiming it is. This has been done before many times. The airplanes will say SkyWest on them, but you’ll have to go to AirTran to book. It’s a lot like the deal they had with Delta back in the day.
You may remember that SkyWest was flying as Midwest Connect until Republic came in and booted them out. Like most airlines, SkyWest has more 50 seat jets lying around than they need, so they figured they could just put them back into use on routes they know and love. Only now, they’ll get passengers from AirTran instead of Midwest.
The 50 seaters will fly from Milwaukee to Akron/Canton (Jan 5), Des Moines (Feb 11), Indianapolis (Jan 5), Omaha (Feb 11), Pittsburgh (Dec 4), and St Louis (Dec 4). All of those are Midwest markets except for Akron/Canton, which is a big airport for AirTran. Nice.
Some of you may remember AirTran’s last effort to use 50 seat jets. Back in 2002, they signed a deal with Air Wisconsin to fly as AirTran Jet Connect. That ended in 2004 when the airline realized 50 seat jets didn’t make much money. Some are already saying that this won’t work this time around, but this is a totally different model. This will work out just fine for AirTran, though SkyWest might not be as thrilled.
Before, it was a capacity purchase agreement which meant that AirTran bought the seats to resell under their own name and Air Wisconsin received a guaranteed profit. Now, it’s a prorate agreement. SkyWest is flying these routes at its own risk and AirTran gets to share in the revenue. So SkyWest has a big burden here while AirTran has none.
If you listen to the AirTran pilots, this is the end of the world. Their press release says “Outsourcing: Bad for Business.” Hmm, not so sure about that. They do say that AirTran passengers expect to be flown on AirTran planes and that means XM Radio, wireless internet, and business class. Hmm, maybe, but they aren’t going to get that from Milwaukee to these cities.
Granted, Pittsburgh, Indy, and St Louis have mainline service from AirTran right now, so this tells me that those flights are really weak. It’s either a 50 seater that has a shot at making money or no service at all. I’d say it’s good for business with that perspective.
I suppose it’s AirTran’s fault that the pilots are responding this way. Back when they discontinued JetConnect, AirTran said they “could operate the Boeing 717 more efficiently than the Canadair regional jets in short-haul markets.” They may have thought that sounded good at the time, but now the AirTran pilots want them to stand by that statement.
Unfortunately for the pilots, that’s just not true. When AirTran started JetConnect, they served three cities – Pensacola, Greensboro, and Savannah. Only Pensacola is still served by AirTran today. I guess those 717s didn’t work out as well as they hoped on those lighter routes.
In my mind, this comes down to just a couple of things. SkyWest has a bunch of 50 seaters lying around and is desperate to find a home for them. AirTran wants to continue to put the squeeze on Midwest in Milwaukee. Combine the two and, voila, you have a plan.
Will this work? If I had to place bets, I’d guess no, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. If I’m AirTran, I love this deal since I have absolutely no risk and I get to strengthen my network out of Milwaukee. If I’m SkyWest, well, it’s the best I can get right now, and that’s scary.
[Updated 11/5 @ 809s to clarify that this won't be sold under the SkyWest code]