Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke is optimistic the city will once again see direct air service to Chicago and Detroit, but so far, a deal has not been sealed. Last fall United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) announced it would no longer offer service to Chicago from Evansville Regional Airport, effective January 4, because of limited resources and a national pilot shortage. In March, American Airlines (Nasdaq: AA) paused its service to Chicago and Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL) placed a hold on its Evansville-Detroit connection.
In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Winnecke said reliable air service is critical to any growing economy.
“It’s been really devastating for a lot of our corporate citizens who need to get vendors and customers to Evansville. They’re consequently they’re having to fly through Charlotte, Atlanta or Dallas, which are all great connections, but it does pose a challenge,” said Winnecke. “Luckily, the state has been a really good partner in trying to get the airlines to get those flights restored sooner rather than later.”
Last week, officials from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. met with city and regional officials to discuss the flight disruptions.
“Air service to the regions across the state is critically important, and the IEDC is working closely with our airport partners, including EVV, to determine how to restore, preserve and expand connectivity over all of the state’s airports,” said Erin Sweitzer, IEDC vice president of communications.
During a panel discussion at last week’s Engage Indiana event in Evansville, hosted by Inside INdiana Business and IBJ Media, business leaders said it is difficult for companies to grow with reduced air service.
“It’s a challenge because we have world headquarters here. And we have major businesses here that do their R&D [research and development] elsewhere and other aspects of their business,” said Tara Barney, chief executive officer of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. “It’s a high priority of ours to be as strong a partner as we can possibly be and problem-solve this phase.”
As the airline industry struggled to recover from the pandemic last fall, Evansville Regional Airport unveiled the FlyEVV First program designed to maximize the impact that flying local has on the region.
Nine companies committed to use EVV when possible, including Atlas Van Lines, Berry Global Group, Old National Bancorp, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana.
“Flying EVV First benefits the entire region by improving our region’s global competitiveness, reducing overall business travel costs and growing our region’s economy,” Evansville Regional Airport Executive Director Nate Hahn said last fall to launch the campaign.
While the airport continues to regain service to Chicago and Detroit, it does offer service to Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas. However, Winnecke says the Chicago connection is vital.
“They’ve told us that they’re not walking away forever. They’re walking away for now,” said Winnecke. “We know our flight from Evansville to Chicago is among the strongest America’s whole service area. So, we know we’re a good hub, but because of the pilot shortage and aircraft shortage, it’s an issue right now.”
Winnecke is encouraged that American has added another daily flight to Dallas, now offering three flights a day. He adds Delta is bringing in larger aircraft now on its Atlanta flight. While those are positive signs, southwest Indiana economic development officials are hopeful American Airlines will resume service to Chicago and Delta will restore its flights to Detroit, but they don’t know when those routes will appear.