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Waterloo airport board proposes switch from American to United

Time:2018-02-14 03:20Turbochargers information Click:

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Nov. 18--WATERLOO -- After nearly six years of service from American Airlines, the Waterloo Regional Airport Board has proposed switching to United Airlines as the airport's sole carrier.

The board voted 4-1 at the end of an hour-long special meeting Friday to recommend the change to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Analysis, which makes the final decision.

Under the recommendation, the airport would continue to be served with 13 round-trips each week to Chicago O'Hare International Airport, as it is now under American. If approved, the new carrier would begin a two-year term of service May 1.

"The mayor and I are going to send a letter that contains these recommendations on Monday," said Hugh Field, chairman of the board.

Waterloo Regional Airport operations are subsidized by the Department of Transportation through the Essential Air Services program. The annual subsidy would total $1.9 million with United versus $1.73 million with American, a difference of $168,971.

American Airlines operates out of Waterloo through regional brand American Eagle. United would operate its United Express service through SkyWest Airlines. Both would use a Canadair Regional Jet 200, or CRJ 200, a 50-seat aircraft now being flown at the airport by American.

Officials hope the change will improve service and eventually lead to more daily flights out of the airport, including other possible destinations. Keith Kaspari, the airport's director of aviation, said service such as on-time flights has been an issue with American.

"What we're trying to do is provide the best air service that we can," Kaspari said, for all of eastern Iowa. He noted United told airport officials in March there would be the possibility of "additional frequency of flights both east- and west-bound, and that is very appealing to us."

Board member Steve Dust stressed the importance of eventually adding other destinations. "If we don't find a way to get people west of here we're going to continue to be very constrained," he said.

Field called the difference in service between the two airlines "astonishing" based on statistics shown to the board. "We think we'll fill the planes if we have reliable service," he added.

Mayor Quentin Hart, who attended the meeting but is not a member of the board, signaled his interest in changing carriers. "I think we've grown as much as we're going to grow with American," he said.

"I think American believes we have tapped out our growth," said board member Gwenne Berry.

Kaspari initially proposed recommending the airport stay with American.

"At the bottom line, I think what we try to do is we put pressure on American" to improve service. He expressed concern with another change in carriers after only six years, particularly in light of customers' loyalty to their frequent flier programs.

"I favor what Keith wants to do," said board member Arlene Humble, the lone dissenter on the vote. She expressed concern about losing customers who have built up frequent flier miles with American.

United offered two options for the airport. The second one splits the 13 daily round-trip flights between O'Hare and Denver, Colo. The subsidy for that option would have been $751,418 more.

Board member Scott Voigt made a motion for the first United option "because of the service," suggesting further pressuring American wouldn't work. "It's futile trying to negotiate at the 11th hour," he said.

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