Temporary Delta Connection Frequency Reduction

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According to Delta Airlines’ online timetables, daily roundtrips between Peoria and Atlanta will be reduced from three to two for the period July 1 thru August 22.

The reasons for this are unclear. A shortage of equipment (use of 50-seat CRJ200s continues) or competition from American Eagle’s new Charlotte service are both possibilities.

Fortunately, it appears to be a temporary reduction.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Posts March Record!

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Peoria Int’l Airport posted an all-time passenger record in March 2017.

This as expected, since March is ski season, and Spring Break for college students. According to a press release from April 13, 61,199 passengers were handled last month. This figure not only beat previous March tallies, but the airport’s all-time record of 61,156 passengers in a single month, July 2015.

New service by American Eagle to Charlotte and that carrier’s deployment of larger jets to Dallas/Ft. Worth are also cited for the record traffic. For the year, business is up 8,250 passengers,or 5.5 percent, over 2016. If the trend continues, 2017 should be another record year.

– David P. Jordan

PIA – A History: Trunks Leave, Ozark Grows (1960-1964)

The last post in this series covered 1958-1960, detailing the new terminal which opened in May 1959. Airline schedules from the Official Airline Guide, January 1960 edition, were included. I’ll now analyze 1960-1964.

The new terminal brought optimism thatthe 1960s would bring larger aircraft and more flights. Indeed, the Peoria Journal Star reported May 13, 1959 that American Airlines might replace its 40-seat Convair 240s with 70-seat DC-6s, and eventually the new turboprop Lockheed Electra. Likewise, Trans World Airlines intended to phase out its 40-seat Martin 404s with 81-seat Lockheed Constellations.

Optimism shattered when Trans World Airlines announced January 13, 1960 its intention to drop Peoria from its network. Then American Airlines made a similar announcement March 9 that year. As a courtesy to TWA’s 13 years of service, Peoria industry did not oppose the airline’s petition. American Airlines, however, faced a two-year battle before the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Illinois Commerce Commission and even the Cook County Circuit Court.

Like TWA, American Airlines had reduced Peoria service in the mid-1950s and was content to allow Ozark Air Lines increase its market share. The Local Service carrier fed passengers to long-haul American and TWA flights anyway.

A single-daily southbound and northbound flight linked Peoria with Springfield and St. Louis. Oddly, service to Chicago-O’Hare was northbound-only and Chicago-Midway southbound-only. To compensate, American subsidized passengers’ helicopter or ground (bus, limo, taxi) service between the two facilities if a connection was necessary. A 40-seat Convair 240 operated both flights.

American informed the Greater Peoria Airport Authority March 9, 1960 of its intention to petition the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to drop both Peoria and Springfield from its route network. City leaders opposed this petition on grounds Ozark Air Lines’ service was deemed inadequate, and the prestige of losing Trunk Airline service was too great, no matter how limited.

The situation worsened April 24, 1960. The same day TWA dropped its Chicago (Midway)-Peoria “turnaround,” American shifted its Peoria-to-O’Hare flight to Midway.

On June 1, CAB approved a temporary suspension of service then on June 29 the Illinois Commerce Commission gave the nod. Both agencies required hearings for permanent suspension, however. The ICC conducted those hearings on September 8 while CAB did so January 9, 1961.

Both Peoria and Springfield feared lazy service if Ozark remained their only carrier. Ozark countered with plans for expansion and fleet expansion.

The Civil Aeronautics Board favored the Trunks’ desire to hand off small cities to Locals, so Peoria and Springfield faced an uphill battle to retain American Airlines. On March 2, 1961 the Peoria Journal Star noted that 56.2 percent of Peoria air passengers fly beyond Chicago or St. Louis, and that 86 percent of air miles generated were long haul. In American’s view, it didn’t need to serve Peoria (or Springfield) directly; Ozark could simply hand off those passengers at Chicago or St. Louis. Its own service was unnecessary competition, a wasteful duplication of service. Withdrawal would strengthen Ozark.

American Airlines left no stone unturned in its battle to drop the two downstate cities. It went to Cook County Circuit Court where a hearing was held June 12, 1961.  A good thing because CAB rejected American’s petition on October 18. The airline vowed to take its case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

I’ve been unable to find a date, but American Airlines eventually shifted its flights from Midway to O’Hare. This action took place on or before April 29, 1962. Midway was completely abandoned by airlines in July.

My notes may be incomplete, but it appears American was granted a re-hearing before CAB, which on June 15, 1962 authorized the airline’s request. But on July 2, the Illinois Commerce Commission blocked this move. Peoria wanted to appeal, but Springfield agreed to drop its opposition in return for Ozark’s promises of comparable service. American Airlines dropped both cities on August 13.

Even as American Airlines sought to end service here a few of the airline’s large, four-engine turbojets visited the city for crew training. The Greater Peoria Airport offered congestion-free air space. One of the airline’s 707’s performed touch-and-goes here on May 6, 1961. This was the city’s first visit by the type, one of which returned on January 28, 1962. A brand-new Convair 990 performed touch-and-goes here on March 7 that year, 11 days before entering service.

Seven American Airlines DC-7s were chartered by 600 Shriners and their wives to fly from Peoria to San Francisco. Departures took place December 27, 1963 and returned (from Los Angeles) on January 4, 1964.

Louisville, Kentucky petitioned the Civil Aeronautics Board in April 1964 for new routes to points in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia points via Lake Central Airlines. Included among proposed routes was Peoria-Louisville service. Nothing ever came of it though.

This proposed intra-state carrier would use refurbished DC-3s planned to link many downstate cities, including Peoria, with Chicago-O’Hare. Ozark opposed its petition before the Illinois Commerce Commission, claiming it would cut revenue and weaken its service. Plans were revealed in early September 1963. Ozark lost its bid to dismiss Lincoln Airways’ petition during ICC hearings that November. Although the ICC scheduled hearings May 25-26, 1964 nothing more was heard of this airline.

This Local Service Carrier entered the “Jet Age” on January 4, 1960 when it inaugurated Fairchild F-27 turboprop service. Service was unprofitable, but federal subsidies covering flights to small cities ensured the airline stayed in the black. Loss of TWA at Peoria strengthened the carrier. TWA, in fact, maintained its sales office at PIA, with Ozark handing off passengers to the airline at both Chicago (Midway) and St. Louis.

Both Peoria and Springfield saw Ozark’s service as inadequate, and the St. Louis-based carrier took steps to change its image. The airline increased its Chicago-bound flights from four to six on May 1, 1960 bringing weekday service to 17 departures.

On June 1, the Civil Aeronautics Board gave Ozark permission to expand Peoria service by eliminating stops at Champaign, Decatur and Springfield on some Chicago flights. Ozark could not carry local passengers between Peoria and Springfield. CAB action changed that, and service began August 1. On October 1, Ozark eliminated some tag-ons (Peoria-Springfield) or one stop (Peoria on Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis) to increase seating capacity in select markets.

Improvements had only begun. On May 1, 1961 Ozark shifted three Peoria-Chicago roundtrips to O’Hare, enabling direct connections with the Trunks’ increasing jet services. The same month, it revealed interest in turbojets – five twin-engine British Aerospace BAC-111s – by 1966. Also, the airline sought used Convair 240s, Martin 404s and more modern Viscounts were being considered to supplement th F-27 fleet. Convair 240s were chosen, and four joined the fleet in 1962. First service with the type began August 13 that year.

Around June 1961, a deal was made in which Ozark assumed ground handling for American Airlines at Peoria (and Springfield). On September 5, Ozark began a new morning flight to O’Hare and a second flight (via two stops) to Minneapolis/St. Paul, increasing to 18 weekday departures.

Ozark shifted its last Midway flights to Chicago-O’Hare on April 29, 1962. A large expansion added two more terminals at O’Hare at the start of the year, enabling sufficient capacity to consolidate all flights at the newer and larger facility. This gave Peoria seven weekday departures to what became the world’s busiest airport, mostly on larger F-27s or Convair 240s.

The end of Trunk service to Peoria gave Ozark a monopoly, but the airline promised a bright future with expansion. Promises were kept in 1963 as the carrier took over space previously used by American Airlines and rented the terminal’s third floor so it could consolidate its reservations center there. Three more O’Hare and one St. Louis flight (via Springfield) were added on September 3. A Convair 240 replaced a DC-3 on a third two-stop Minneapolis/St. Paul flight. Through service to Tulsa on an F-27 also began on this date.

TWA announced January 13, 1960 its intent to withdraw from Peoria. The airline’s local market share had been 54 percent in 1954, but only four percent in 1959. Lacking opposition, the Civil Aeronautics Board approved TWA’s request on March 4, 1960. The Illinois Commerce Commission gave its nod for a two-year suspension in early April. In these hearings, it was revealed TWA’s Peoria flights lost $18,000 in the last quarter of 1959.

Service ended April 24, 1960. As mentioned above, TWA maintained its ticket sales office at PIA’s terminal. On May 17, 1961 the Peoria Journal Star reported that the airline’s local business was up since service ended a year before. That Ozark feed passengers to TWA at Chicago and St. Louis was satisfactory, and would continue to be so for years to come.

By summer 1960, several expansion projects were underway: Work began extending Runway 12-30 835′ to the northwest, making it 8,835′ (including 1000′ overrun). A 2,400′ taxiway was built from main ramp to north end of Runway 18-36. T-hangars on the airfield’s east side were moved west of the terminal for 169th ANG ramp expansion.

The USAF Thunderbirds, using F-100 Super Sabres, performed here on Sunday, July 17, 1960, drawing about 10,000. The team gave a repeat performance on September 22, 1963 when static displays included an F-86, KC-97, C-121, F-100, F-89, B-57, F-84 and T-33.

GOP presidential nominee, Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, flew a United Air Lines DC-6 to make a Peoria campaign stop on September 14, 1960.

In January 1963, GPAA purchased land south of Smithville Road (bordering the airport) for future extension of Runway 4-22 to the southwest.

Aircraft type was not identified, but the Peoria Journal Star reported February 12, 1962 that a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane carrying 34 Hewitt Equipment Co. Ltd. customers from Montreal were confined to the plane in Peoria because immigration officials neglected to sign necessary paperwork. A second plane with 54 on board was due the next day. A local official called Montreal to solve the problem. Both flights were likely operated by Douglas DC-4s.

A Canadian Pacific Airlines DC-6 brought 70 Canadian municipal officials to Peoria February 18, 1962 to view earthmoving ideas from Caterpillar. No immigration problems were reported with this one. The plane left February 22.

An Ozark DC-3 damaged a wingtip when it brushed a treetop during a landing attempt here in late-March 1963. The flight skipped Peoria and flew on to Chicago.

In 1960, PIA handled 94,986 passengers, a 3.3 percent drop from 1959’s record 98,214. Traffic slid further in 1961 when only 91,573 went through PIA’s terminal. A recession spanning April 1960 to February 1961 factored in the decline. That and an earlier recession in 1957-58 forced Caterpillar to reduce its workforce from 27,000 at the end of 1956 to 20,000 four years later, no doubt reducing air travel by company officials.

Traffic rebounded massively in 1962 when PIA handled 104,189 passengers, a 13.7 percent gain, marking first time passenger traffic passed the six-figure mark. In 1963, passengers surged to 119,723, a 14.9 percent increase!

Below are flight schedules culled from the Official Airline Guide, March 15, 1964 edition. Ozark Air Lines boasted 24 weekday departures with multiple nonstops to Chicago-O’Hare International Airport, and one- or multi-stop flights to Des Moines, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and St. Louis on a mix of Fairchild F-27 turboprops, Convair 240s and Douglas DC-3s. See corresponding route map below.

PIA March 15, 1964 Pg. 1PIA March 15, 1964 Pg. 2

PIA Routes March 1964

– David P. Jordan

PIA Breaks February Record!

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Peoria Int’l Airport broke its February passenger record.

According to today’s press release, 47,385 passengers went through the local airport last month. The previous record, 45,806, was set only a year ago.

The press release attributes the record to new service to Charlotte and Destin (Florida), and larger jets to Dallas/Ft.Worth. If this trend holds, PIA will resume its string of record annual passenger traffic in 2017.

The Peoria Journal Star posted this story an hour ago.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Posts January Record!

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Peoria Int’l Airport is already off to a good start in 2017.

The Peoria Journal Star posted this article last evening revealing that passenger traffic for January 2017 (48,847) beat the previous record in January 2015 (46,944).

Airport director Gene Olson credits a mild winter, i. e. fewer flight cancellations, and new service to American Airlines’ Charlotte hub, which started November 4.

Competition for passengers between American (Charlotte) and Delta (Atlanta) to and from southeast markets, the Caribbean, South America and Europe should stimulate traffic through 2017. American [Eagle’s] deployment of larger jets to Dallas/Ft. Worth February 16 may increase traffic as well.

Allegiant Air’s Destin, Florida flights start in May, adding another leisure destination and even more passengers. There’s also a possiblity that United Airlines’ renewed energy for expansion, Peoria-Denver will resume as soon as this year.

If these trends continue, PIA should break 2015’s record (641,671 passengers) this year.

– David P. Jordan

Affect of Caterpillar HQ Decision on PIA

Caterpillar’s decision to move its “official” headquarters to Chicago won’t affect passenger traffic at Peoria Int’l Airport.

That’s the word from airport director, Gene Olson. The Peoria Journal Star ran this story Tuesday only hours after the news broke.

Not necessarily. Olson made the point that Caterpillar had imposed air travel restrictions on its employees March 1, 2015, yet local air travel numbers set a record that year (641,477 vs. 639,320 in 2014). Interpreted this way, 2015’s numbers, though a record, would probably have been much higher if not for Big Yellow’s restrictions. After more mass layoffs, numbers for 2016 were down but less than three percent.

The shock of losing Caterpillar’s “official” headquarters is understandable, but it isn’t a time to lose our minds. Only 300 jobs – granted these are high-salaried positions – are moving out. This leaves a local workforce of slightly under 12,000 spread among East Peoria, Mapleton, Morton, Mossville and Peoria, and a some smaller operations such as at Edwards and Spring Bay.

It seems that Caterpillar-related travel isn’t as dominant as it once was. But there is some good news in all of this. While Peoria loses the symbolism of being the world headquarters for a Fortune 100 company, it keeps the substance of having the largest concentration of the company’s employees and manufacturing facilities. If and when demand for Caterpillar products returns, factories will be humming again with activity and a higher number of employees.

I suspect Peoria Int’l Airport will be breaking more records in coming years.

– David P. Jordan

PIA – A History: New Terminal, New Problems, 1958-1960

When the Greater Peoria Airport handled 94,914 passengers in 1957 (a 13.3 percent increase over the previous year), it looked as if the airport would top 100,000 for the first time in 1958. But this was not to be.

A recession plagued the nation’s economy by late 1957. It would last eight months, and one serious consequence – 3,000 layoffs by Caterpillar Tractor Company – hurt the local economy, and thus airline passenger traffic. Only 90,873 passengers enplaned/ deplaned at PIA in 1958. An American Airlines strike, begun December 19 (end January 10), couldn’t have helped matters.

Yet as 1958 unfolded, there was much to look forward. Runway 12-30 was extended to 7,000 feet with an additional 1,000 overrun. It opened for traffic on August 16, enabling the 169th’s F-84’s to fly out of their own base. Even better, a new mid-field terminal complex would soon replace the old cramped facility on Airport Road. By July 1958, the new terminal was 50 percent complete.

Peorians got a glimpse toward the future air travel when a Fairchild F-27 turboprop stopped here September 30 for a demonstration flight. Ozark Air Lines had recently placed orders for three of the 40-seat aircraft.

The new terminal opened on Friday, May 1, 1959 with full operations commencing the following Monday. On Saturday, May 16, a “Peoria Air Fair” to officially dedicate the new terminal attracted many static displays as well as 80,000 spectators. At this time, it was believed American Airlines would soon replace its 40-seat Convair 240s here with 70-seat DC-6s while Trans World Airlines would replaced its Martin 404s (also configured for 40 seats) with 81-seat Lockheed Constellations.

Meanwhile, Ozark Air Lines announced that F-27 turboprop service would begin September 27, but negotiations with the airline’s pilots’ union delayed scheduled service until early 1960.

Shortly after moving to the new terminal, TWA dropped its daily roundtrip Peoria-Kansas City service, leaving a morning Chicago-Midway to Peoria “turnaround” (eliminating one-way service from Chicago-O’Hare).

I’ve not figured out the rhyme or reason for offering service to O’Hare one way and Midway the other, but American Airlines began doing the same same thing, probably after inaugurating jet service to O’Hare (from New York) in March 1959 or Los Angeles the following month. American’s service was to O’Hare while a flight to Peoria, Springfield and St. Louis from the east stopped at Midway.

On March 1, 1959 Ozark Air Lines began touting a Kansas City connection via Ottumwa, Iowa. Ozark Air Lines schedules effective January 4, 1960 show single place service to Kansas City (via Burlington and Ottumwa), possibly as a replacement for the loss of TWA service to that city.

By 1959, the nation’s economy was growing again, and local factories were humming with activity. That year, airline passenger numbers totaled 98,214.

Ozark Air Lines inaugurated F-27 turboprop service to Peoria on January 4, 1960 with five arrivals and five departures per day. Routings included Chicago (Midway)-Peoria-Springfield (IL)-St. Louis-Springfield (MO)-Joplin, Chicago (Midway)-Peoria-Springfield (IL) and a Chicago (Midway)-Peoria turnaround. The carrier announced that it would soon shift some flights to O’Hare to maintain trunk airline connections.

Unfortunately, in mid-January TWA announced it would seek to end its remaining service. The carrier controlled 54 per cent of the Peoria market in 1954, but only four percent in 1959. Introduction by Ozark of F-27 turboprop service was expected to erode its market share even further.

Below are airline schedules culled from the January 1960 Official Airline Guide. American Airlines, Ozark Airlines and Trans World Airlines schedules were effective, January 3, 4 and 11, respectively.

PIA January 1960

This map shows air carrier routes through Peoria in January 1960.

PIA Routes January 1960

In the next installment of this series, we’ll analyze the end of Trunk Airline service to Peoria in the early 1960s, but also the rapid growth experienced by Ozark Air Lines during this period.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Passenger Figures Released Jan. 17, Where are CIRA’s?

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A year ago, I suggested the Central Illinois Regional Airport was embarrassed to release its passenger tally for 2015. A local radio station (WJBC AM 1230) had quoted an official saying there were 9.7 percent fewer flights versus 2014. One day after my post, The Pantagraph reported the numbers.

I’m not saying my post had an influence on the pace of news. Rather, CIRA had already provided the numbers to the newspaper. That was January 16, 2016. It is now January 20, 2017 and we still don’t have 2016’s figures.

Is CIRA again embarrassed?

There may be good reasons to be. Traffic at CIRA grew in May and June, but probably dropped off late in the year as American Eagle began Peoria-Charlotte nonstops. This likely prompted fare cuts by Delta [Connection] on seats via Atlanta, thus causing a surge in business at Peoria. GPAA advertised the new service around Bloomington-Normal and no doubt attract more than a few travelers at CIRA’s expense.

Furthermore, American Eagle eliminated its third CIRA-Dallas/Ft.Worth nonstop, begun last March. This might have been just a seasonal reduction, but will it not return since CIRA, like Peoria, is soon getting larger aircraft on this route. Delta’s decision to end Detroit service in late-July (though with a compensatory capacity increase to Atlanta), and a seasonal reduction in frequency to Minneapolis/St. Paul probably reduced traffic in the last half of 2016.

CIRA handled 379,186 passengers in 2015, the lowest volume since 1997. Will 2016 continue that downward path? In the first six months (excluding charter passengers), CIRA traffic was down 3.4 percent. If the trend has continued, 2016’s figure could be between 350,000 and 370,000. At least the decline may have slowed.

– David P. Jordan