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All aboard Southwest.

Dallas-Based Airline Leads LR Carriers

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, THE Dallas-based firm, flew past Delta Air Lines last year to become the No. 1 carrier at Little Rock Regional Airport, Adams Field.

Southwest handled more than 539,000 passengers at Little Rock Regional Airport last year, about 35,000 more than Delta. In 1991, Delta led with more than 493,000 passengers arriving and departing, compared with about 478,000 for Southwest.

"I think it is unusual for a city this size to be served by as many carriers as we have," says Jim Helton, the district marketing manager for Delta.

Helton, a native Arkansan, worked or Delta at Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans and Denver before returning to Little Rock this year.

"Some of the cities our size might have three or perhaps four airlines," Helton says. "We are fortunate for a city of our size to have service to as many directions as we have.

"Many of the cities I can think of might have a north-south directional service, but we have service out of here to many directions."

A quick check with a Little Rock travel agency shows that passengers leaving Little Rock can travel to at least 16 major cities directly or with only one stop: Memphis, Tenn.; New Orleans; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Boston; Washington; Chicago; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; Dallas; Tulsa, Okla.; San Antonio; Denver; Nashville, Tenn.; and Phoenix.

Little Rock has 13 airlines, including regional commuter carriers, that service the airport. They are Southwest, Delta, American Airlines, American Eagle, Conquest Air, Continental Express Airlines, Florida Gulf, Northwest Airlines, Northwest Airlink, Trans World Airlines, United Airlines, USAir and USAir Express.

The airport is again on track to surpass 1 million passengers arriving or departing this year. Last year was the first time that happened. More than 523,000 passengers have arrived at the airport this year, and more than 528,000 have departed. Both figures are an increase of 8.16 percent over last year.

Through the first six months of this year, Southwest had 290,941 total passengers arriving and departing at Little Rock, already about 37,000 more than Delta has handled.

Expensive Tax

Helton says one major concern of the airline industry is a proposed fuel tax, which is part of the Clinton administration's budget plan. The Senate, in voting on Clinton's budget, adopted a 4-cent fuel tax but planned for the financially strapped airlines to be exempt. The final budget package and its possible fuel tax isn't expected from Congress until next month.

If airlines are not exempt from the fuel tax, Helton says, "that is going to be very hard for the industry to pass on to the consumer. At Delta alone, we would be looking at something in the neighborhood of $100 million a year that the tax would increase our cost of operating."

Helton says U.S. airlines are also concerned about the "encroachment of the foreign carriers on U.S. soil."

He says the U.S. carriers are willing to compete with foreign airlines "head to head," but some foreign firms have been given concessions to serve certain U.S. cities. Most U.S. carriers are not given similar concessions to service many foreign cities.

"I don't really think European carriers are interested in competing head to head with American carriers," Helton says. "We would really like for it to be open."

Many of the major airlines announced cuts in fares last month to boost summer travel. The fares are as much as 30 percent less than the normal rates, but they still are not as deep as the cuts last summer.

"I think this last round of fare reductions did generate some business, but we always think back to last year when the fares were literally cut in half," Helton says. "There were times last year when the fares were so low that we could fill up our planes and it was just a matter of 'How much money do you want to lose?'

"But in a competitive situation, you can't really allow the competition to offer those fares and not match them. You don't have the option of letting the other airlines go at it because we'd look up and not be carrying anybody at all."

United Parcel Service Inc. handled more than three times the freight of any other carrier last year at Little Rock. UPS handled more than 10.2 million pounds of freight last year, and Airborne Express was second with 3.2 million pounds.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Business Rankings; Southwest Airlines leads carriers at Little Rock Regional Airport
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 19, 1993
Previous Article:Hello again, Gum Springs.
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