Change is in the Air for Midwest Airlines

By next summer, passengers flying from Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport on Midwest Airlines will likely see more nonstop flights and lower fares. These are a few of the changes taking place under the new ownership of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Midwest

Many of the passengers will be flying on Regional Jets instead of Boeing 717s. Also, those jets will have fewer of the wide seats that helped Midwest win a loyal following.

Those conclusions are based on information gathered from Republic Chief Executive Officer Bryan Bedford and airline industry observers. Republic is forming its plans for Oak Creek-based Midwest after announcing recently that it’s buying Midwest for the bargain-basement price of $31 million. For competitive reasons, Republic doesn’t want to announce detailed plans. “Look at what was Midwest’s network 12 months ago, and you get a good gauge of where we’re headed,” Bedford said.

Some flights that were cut last year have been restored, and Midwest now has up to 100 daily departures to 33 cities during its peak summer schedule, said Midwest spokesman Michael Brophy.

Executives at Indianapolis-based Republic will consider restoring any route that is viable, including leisure routes, said company spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

Bedford will likely turn to Frontier Airlines for examples of running profitable routes that compete with low-fare carriers, according to Bob McAdoo, an airline industry analyst with Nashville, Tenn.-based Avondale Partners. Along with buying Midwest, Republic is acquiring Denver-based Frontier for just less than $109 million.

McAdoo said Frontier has competed successfully against low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines, which has a large presence at Denver International Airport.

“The guys running Frontier surprised people with the company’s profitability,” McAdoo said. “That would give you some hope to do same thing (with Midwest).”

Republic will operate Midwest more efficiently in part by dropping Midwest’s nine Boeing 717 jets and replacing them with Republic’s Embraer 170 and Embraer 190 jets.

Bedford said the Embraer aircraft are more fuel-efficient than the 99-seat Boeing 717s. Also, operating with just one fleet type will reduce training and maintenance costs, Bertolini said.

Each Embraer 190 will include 20 seats that are the wide “signature” seats, Bertolini said. That compares to 40 signature seats available on each of Midwest’s current Boeing 717 jets.

Despite switching to aircraft that will have fewer “signature” seats, Bedford said the Embraer 190 will compare favorably on passenger comfort with jets used by competing airlines. The Embraer 190 doesn’t have a middle seat, which is attractive to passengers, he said.

“I think we’ve got the better tool to compete,” Bedford said.