Originally created 07/10/01

Savannah airport lands Northwest

While Augusta Regional Airport officials wait for the day they can sign a new air carrier, Savannah International Airport has added another notch to its belt.

Northwest Airlines announced Monday that it will start flying from Savannah to Detroit later this year.

Adding Northwest, the world's fourth-largest airline, brings the number of air carriers on Savannah's schedule to 10.

"This was probably the last major (domestic carrier) that we didn't have," said Bob Uhrich, Savannah International's director of air service development.

Augusta Aviation Chairwoman Marcie Wilhelmi said that despite the airport's own recruiting efforts, she does not begrudge Savannah for its success.

"You just have to look at another city and congratulate them because they have done their homework and they've been at it a long time," she said.

Getting the airline's regional carrier Northwest Airlink to come to Savannah took about four years of knocking on Northwest's door, Mr. Uhrich said.

"And every year, we've moved up a little bit on the pecking order," he said. "I think as they've received more regional jets it's opened up new opportunities."

Starting Oct. 1, the airline will fly between its hub in Detroit and Savannah three times a day on 50-seat regional jets.

The city already has daily nonstop flights to Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cincinnati; Dallas; Houston; New York; and Washington.

The Savannah addition should not directly affect Augusta Regional's own campaign to attract air carriers, said David Dorminey, the airport's marketing director.

That is because Augusta Regional has been concentrating on talks with Continental Airlines - and to some degree United Airlines - as the prospects for new service.

Ms. Wilhelmi said she will meet again with Continental officials next month in Houston.

"It's just revisiting - crossing t's and dotting i's again," she said. "As optimistic as we've been, we're still as optimistic."

Augusta Regional officials recently met with Northwest representatives, along with those from four other airlines, at a marketing conference in Phoenix.

"We pressed hard for the Detroit connection," Ms. Wilhelmi said about her meeting with Northwest representatives.

But she said she applauded Savannah's success, calling Northwest a "good fit" for their market.

"As soon as we put all our ducks in a row, I'm sure (Savannah will) be saying the same thing toward us," she said.

"Our day is coming, too."

As airport officials look toward future air carriers, they are also in the middle of trying to complete the airport's master plan - a 25-year map of how Augusta Regional should develop.

They are still looking at three alternatives included in the $750,000 master plan study that outlines possible runway and terminal placements. The plan is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, by which time the aviation board will have decided which alternative to adopt.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.


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