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Nonstops crucial, regional airports told

Airlines are pleased with Fort Wayne International Airport, but that doesn’t mean the travel hub won’t confront challenges going forward, an industry analyst says.

Pilot shortages and competition from nearby airports in larger cities are among the obstacles facing regional airports as they continue to negotiate with carriers for increased service.

Those are the observations of Jeffrey Hartz, senior consultant with Mead & Hunt, an advisory firm in Madison, Wis. He addressed an audience of about 50 business people Thursday during the Regional Air Service Breakfast at the airport.

Hartz said additional service such as nonstop flights to Phoenix that begin Oct. 30 will help prove Fort Wayne has a thriving customer base. Major airlines will need confidence in the area before investing in larger aircrafts and more flights, Hartz said.

Last month, Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority officials announced additional flights through Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Co. The airline has a partnership with the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona and will have two flights a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

In June, Allegiant began offering nonstop flights to Punta Gorda Airport, about 30 minutes from Fort Myers, Fla., twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays. Besides the Fort Myers area, Allegiant operates nonstop flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Orlando and Tampa, Fla.

Other carriers at the Fort Wayne airfield are American Airlines, Delta and United.

And those major carriers are the ones local airport officials must persuade to invest in larger aircrafts and more flights from Summit City, Hartz said.

“The (authority) is doing a good job by continuing to add flights,” he said.

But the emphasis has to be on securing more nonstop flights to major cities for business travelers, who by far made up the bulk of the 284,465 departures last year – a 2.3 percent increase from 2011.

Earlier in the summer, the airport conducted a survey of companies to see how it could improve service for business travelers. Results of the poll are being studied and will likely be released before year’s end.

The airport also offers one-stop destinations to Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and Minneapolis.

“We are having ongoing negotiations with Delta,” said Jessica Miller, airport spokeswoman. “The majority of our planes are 50-seaters, so there is a need for larger aircrafts.

“We have to do more than just show airlines that we’re sold out, though. They want to see all types of statistical information before they make a commitment.”

Until that happens, Hartz said Fort Wayne travelers will continue to often pay more for fares here based on supply and demand.