A route that American Airlines added out of Fort Wayne to Philadelphia last year has attracted more passengers, and Fort Wayne International Airport has been getting larger aircraft as its boardings have increased.
Those were some of the highlights of an annual report delivered to Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. on Oct. 24 at the Promenade Park pavilion in Fort Wayne by Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, which works with FWA on its air service development.
Since 2010, the number of seats flying out of the airport each day on average has grown 43%, “which is fantastic,” said Carrie Kelly, a senior consultant at Ailevon.
In terms of the number of passengers boarding flights at the airport, “we’ve had record numbers,” she said.
“Starting with the year 2016, that was a record year for enplanements, people traveling from our airport. 2017 was a record year; 2018 was a record year. We’re on trend to do that in 2019 as well.”
More than 381,100 passengers boarded flights out of Fort Wayne last year, which was up about 3% from the previous year.
“Kudos to you guys; that’s very exciting and that roughly translates to about 1,400 daily seats in the market,” Kelly said.
FWA is among the nation’s 250 non-hub airports. “We have seven additional seats compared to our peers. And we’re also growing at an almost double pace as the U.S. average. So, we are seeing a little bit more of the larger based aircraft into the marketplace,” she said.
A noteworthy 2019 win was a decision by Delta Air Lines to replace a 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet with a 69-seat CR7 on one of its flights between Fort Wayne and Atlanta, she said.
“We’re very excited about that. It might seem like a little win, but it’s huge. Atlanta is a very strong market for us,” Kelly said.
The decision was important because Delta was convinced to make it by an 88% load factor for that particular flight, she said.
“We’re usually averaging in the 70s,” Kelly said. Before airlines expand seating with larger, more expensive aircraft, “they’d really like to see load factors in mid- to high-80s, which is what we saw with Atlanta,” she said.
“One of our main priorities is to see more of the larger gauge aircraft into the market, anywhere from that 60- to 79-seat … because they offer the premium economy seating, for a little bit more comfortable passenger experience.”
Kelly recommended using premium economy seating on planes at FWA as a way to encourage airlines to increase the number of larger planes they fly out of the city.
With all of its Dallas and Charlotte flights out of Fort Wayne on CR7s as well as part of its service to Chicago, “American really has a competitive advantage in Fort Wayne in terms of offering the most larger (regional jets),” she said.
Additional flights as well as extra seating have contributed to the growth in boardings FWA has seen, and Kelly pointed to increasing use of American’s service between Philadelphia and Fort Wayne as an example of that.
Among all American routes to Philadelphia, it had the lowest load factor when Ailevon Pacific did its annual air service update for Greater Fort Wayne last year, and that was OK because the flight had only been available for six months, she said.
It no longer has the lowest load factor, and for the 12 months that ended this July, the Fort Wayne-Philadelphia flight trended in the right direction by increasing its load factor, reaching about 62%, Kelly said.
FWA’s average load factor “is about 78%, so, it would be nice if I come back next year and see that number in the mid-70s, which is about at the point of maybe like 10 passengers (more) a day getting on board,” Kelly said.
“It’s definitely making trends in the right direction. We’ve been seeing every month it’s a little bit higher and higher,” she said.
While on the subject of newer flights contributing to increased use of FWA, Kelly mentioned Allegiant Air plans to start a seasonal non-stop route between the airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on Nov. 24.
When it comes to expanding the number of destinations reachable with direct flights out of Fort Wayne, there are good reasons to talk with United Airlines about service to its Denver hub, she said.
“It would be a competitive advantage for us because our furthest west right now is Dallas, so even though people still do it — they fly Fort Wayne, Dallas, Seattle — it’s a little circuitous,” Kelly said.
“It’s operationally a little bit more reliable than sometimes the performance of Chicago. So definitely, we’ve had some good conversations with them and it’s on their list,” she said.
“Fort Wayne, they’ve looked at it, they’ve studied it, and a lot of things are on their list, so it’s where it falls,” she said. “We’re definitely not the only ones knocking on United’s door.”
Denver is among United’s most profitable hubs and the business it does there has grown to the point of hitting gate capacity constraints, so it will be getting new gates in the coming years.
Demand for service to Denver out of Fort Wayne in the northeast Indiana, southwest Michigan and northwest Ohio region, using it as a connecting hub for the Western seaboard, is absolutely there. And United has acknowledged that, said Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority.
The challenge FWA faces is, “we aren’t competing with an airport nearby, we’re competing with every airport in the country where they might be able to put a flight crew and an aircraft and maybe make a higher margin,” he said.
FWA has been pitching the possibility of Fort Wayne-Denver service for about two and a half to three years, “and I think we’ve had a little bit more of a positive outcome with our discussions now than we’ve had historically,” he said.
FWA air service development makes an important contribution to commerce within the tri-state region by providing it with good access to the globe, Hinderman said.
“I understand there’s the internet and teleconferencing, but you still have to put eyeballs on the scene at some time. Equally important is having transportation from the globe to Fort Wayne.”
John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said choosing to fly out of FWA instead of other airports for air travel is more convenient, makes sense financially and can help with the region’s air service development.
He suggested considering the example of Chris Shanks, president of Ford Meter Box in Wabash, who has many international customers and does a great deal of business travel.
“He said, ‘We did the math. If we make our reservations early enough, Indianapolis, any place you want to go, they’re not going to beat the price,” Sampson said. “You have to do it early enough. If you wait until two weeks before, you’re probably going to miss the opportunity.
“He’s convinced … they can make FWA work from a corporate cost standpoint, and he said he would much rather travel out of FWA than any other place,” Sampson said.
Other, larger airports require two or three hours of driving to reach. And then, after the air travel portion of the trip is over, he said there’s a drive that long to get home.