Milton Shlapak, president of Airline Acquisition Corp., can't fully understand why Atlanta's aviation department would jeopardize a second hub operation at Hartsfield International Airport in favor of divvying up available gates among several airlines.
AAC is trying to launch New Eastern Airlines, using Atlanta as its hub and headquarters, but AAC officials haven't received many words of encouragement
from the aviation department, which operates city-owned Hartsfield."As an individual, I am discouraged" by Aviation Commissioner Ira Jackson's willingness to parcel out the 33 gates abandoned by the former Eastern Airlines along Concourse C, Mr. Shlapak said.
The way Mr. Shlapak sees it, Atlanta was hurt by the January demise of Eastern, which left Delta Air Lines controlling about 70 percent of daily departures from Hartsfield.
When Eastern ceased operations, it had a 36 percent share but today American Airlines is the second-busiest carrier at Hartsfield with a mere 3.3 percent of the market.
Atlanta-based Delta is perceived as a first-class corporate citizen. But the city and business establishment fear Delta's dominance of fares and schedules could harm economic development efforts.
To boost competition and restore jobs lost with Eastern's collapse, city leaders have been vigorously courting other major airlines to establish a full Atlanta hub. Although there have been nibbles, none of the established carriers have bitten.
"We don't consider (AAC) to be a viable proponent at this time," said John Braden, aviation department spokesman, explaining why AAC hasn't been greeted with open arms.
"We told them to present us with information, but they don't do that," he explained. "Every time we try to get some basic information, like financial, they start backpedaling."
The aviation department is under some pressure to fill that space. The fall of Eastern cost the department about $19 million in revenue, about 15 percent of its annual total.
Among the carriers with which Mr. Jackson is negotiating are Northwest, United, TWA, American and Continental, all of which want to increase their Atlanta flights.
City officials had fairly high hopes of persuading Northwest to build an Atlanta hub until Northwest announced last month it would sink its assets into its operation at Washington National Airport.
"Atlanta won't see a major carrier come in (with a hub), said Russell Thayer, an airline management consultant advising AAC on its plans for New Eastern. "The territory is all staked out."
Mr. Thayer's comment didn't simply represent his bias toward New Eastern as Atlanta's only hope.
Last month, John Dasberg, Northwest's chief executive officer, was quoted as saying he was "99 percent sure" Atlanta wouldn't entice another airline to hub at Hartsfield.
John Mitchell, AAC chairman, said New Eastern will need 22 gates on Concourse C initially but eventually will require all 33 gates to accommodate its five-year expansion plan.
He said he hopes any Concourse C gates leased to other airlines will be short-term arrangements so as not to stymie New Eastern's growth.