Air Transport World

Commuters battle for feed for their major partners; when Metro (American Eagle) moved into some of its markets, Rio (Delta Connection) returned the favor.

Commuters battle for feed for their Major partners

Direct competition between commuter airlines, a rarity in the early days of the industry, is suddenly becoming a significant offshoot of the new alliances between Major carriers and their smaller brethren.

"Deregulation--which only now is really being implemented--has changed the whole ballgame,' says F. E. (Pete) Howe, longtime executive VP of Rio Airways. "In the beginning, the big carriers got out of the small cities, which is what we commuters had hoped for. But then they began building hub-and-spoke route systems and decided they wanted the feed from those small cities--and not just their share of the feed but all of it.'

Since it wasn't practical for the Majors with their large jets to serve the small towns with adequate frequencies themselves, they began following the pioneering Allegheny Commuter pattern and forming alliances with regional carriers--like the Delta Connection of which Rio is a part.

Delta Air Lines which is attempting with considerable success to wrest market share from dominant American Airlines at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, added Rio to its Delta Connection network last June. And Rio, which was serving seven Texas towns from a DFW hub, carrying 400,000-plus passengers a year, and turning the majority of its connecting traffic over to American, began giving the bulk of its traffic to Delta.

Fight just beginning

Late last fall, American struck back, signing up two Texas commuters, Metro Airlines and Chaparral Airlines, as its first American Eagle partners. This spring, the competitive battle between Delta and American filtered down to their commuter allies: Metro entered Rio's markets of Wichita Falls and San Angelo, and Rio countered by launching service in Metro's Lawton, Okla. …

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