Start-up airline taps Louisville for its base
Area may get 355 jobs, increased flight service
LOUISVILLE (The Courier-Journal) - The nation's newest regional airline will put its corporate and maintenance headquarters in Louisville, creating 355 jobs and potentially increasing passenger service to other cities.
Republic Airlines President Tom Hanley announced yesterday that his company plans to have 10 regional jets, with 50 seats each, flying by the end of the year. There are plans for 10 more by July 2004.
Routes have not been settled.
''We are very happy now to call Louisville our home,'' Hanley said yesterday afternoon during a news conference at Louisville International Airport.
Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson praised Republic's choice of Louisville over Greensboro, S.C., and Rochester, N.Y., the other cities trying to lure the company.
''It's great to have them here, and it's great to have the jobs they're going to bring,'' Abramson said.
He said the additional aircraft flying into Louisville International should not create much more noise because the planes are small.
Mary Rose Evans, president of the Airport Neighbors Alliance and an airport board member, agreed and said the biggest noise problems come from large UPS planes.
The company will fly under the name, logo and colors of U.S. Airways, which has declared bankruptcy and is increasingly contracting with regional companies such as Republic to shuttle passengers from small and medium-sized cities to hub airports.
Hanley doesn't yet know which routes Republic will cover for U.S. Airways. After the announcement, he said U.S. Airways ''will decide what the schedules are.''
Republic's planes will be based in Louisville and fly there every three or four days for regular maintenance. With Republic's entire fleet in the city so regularly, that will likely translate into the company offering flights to cities that Louisville International now serves -- and perhaps some it doesn't, Hanley said.
J. Michael Brown, chairman of the Regional Airport Authority, which has been working for months to lure the airline, said yesterday that the state incentives ''were what really put us over the top'' in winning Republic.
''We had the community and we had the synergy,'' Brown said, ''but we needed a few million bucks.''
In January, the state announced it would give Republic up to $7.8 million in tax rebates over the next decade if the company meets its projections for hiring 355 people for an annual payroll starting at $12.4 million.
The airport's general manager, Jim DeLong, said the airport board will issue $5 million in bonds to build Republic a maintenance hangar and an office building on 3.6 acres at the FBO Aviation Center, which is east of the airport's runways and abuts Interstate 65. Republic will pay the debt on the bonds through annual rent payments.
The airport authority's board meets tomorrow and is expected to award a contract to build the hangar, DeLong said.
The hangar and office are expected to be completed in fall 2004. Until then, DeLong said, Republic will operate out of an existing hangar at FBO.
Hanley said Republic will hire a mix of local workers and experts from out of state. Pilots who have been laid off by U.S. Airways will receive offers to fly for Republic, Hanley said, while the company would likely hire flight attendants and other crew members locally.
Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for U.S. Airways, based in Arlington, Va., said it's too early to say when service will begin.
Republic will become the 11th regional jet company that flies under the U.S. Airways Express banner.
Republic is owned by Republic Holdings Inc., the same corporation that owns Chautauqua Airlines, a regional jet service based in Indianapolis. Chautauqua flies routes for U.S. Airways and several other major carriers.
Hanley said yesterday that Republic also may begin flying routes for airlines in addition to U.S. Airways.
Steve Higdon, president of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, said Republic's decision to choose Louisville is proof again that the airport's controversial expansion of the late 1980s was a wise decision.
Republic's announcement drew praise yesterday from Don Wenzel of Louisville.
Wenzel, an executive with Bank One who often flies as part of his job, said yesterday that Republic's presence in Louisville will be good for several reasons. In addition to jobs, Republic will likely bring increased air service to other cities -- and the competition could mean lower prices for travelers, Wenzel said.
''I don't see any downside,'' he said.
Wenzel said the growth in the number of regional jets doesn't trouble him.
''I am most concerned about getting from point A to point B safely and on time,'' he said.
Regional jets ''allow some additional service into smaller cities and are more cost-effective,'' he said.
Deborah McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association based in Washington, D.C., said Republic is the country's newest regional airline -- and the 92nd nationwide.
Regional airlines range from small companies with four or five turboprop planes, she said, to large corporations with hundreds of airliners in their fleets.
Regional airlines such as Republic are becoming increasingly important in the industry, McElroy said.
''Major carriers are struggling to survive, and that is no melodrama. That is the truth,'' she said.