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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 4, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Nation needs better travel connections

Anyone traveling from Huntsville International Airport on Tuesday had a choice of 32 flights to 12 different locations.

A problem here, however, is twofold: Prices tend to be higher and too often travel involves changing planes in Atlanta.

Still, on Tuesday, area travelers could choose between several flights to destination cities. Two were available to Chicago, three to Dallas/Ft. Worth, two to Houston, two to Detroit and six to the nation's capital.

And there were those five flights to Atlanta, three to Charlotte and two to Memphis just so travelers could get on another plane and go elsewhere.

Airport records indicate air travelers will miss Independence Air after Thursday. For the year ending in June, some 69,607 travelers took its flights into and out of Washington/Dulles.

Travelers looking for lower fares applauded when Independence Air began Huntsville service in October 2004. But while the airline offered good service on a smooth-flying smaller plane, its prices were often no better than its major competitors. Its only advantage to travelers at times was not having to change flights in Atlanta. But its point-to-point flights, like to Washington, cost much less in some cases.

Deregulation of airline industry during the Jimmy Carter administration opened the door for competition for major carriers. Smaller airlines replaced what travelers called puddle jumpers with sophisticated smaller jets and expanded into smaller cities where federal regulations once barred them from flying.

If deregulation was so great, why then are airlines like Independence Air and Delta Airlines failing?

Deregulation is not the culprit. One study estimates that low-fare competitors save travelers nearly $20 billion on tickets each year. The popularity of the Washington/Dulles route from Huntsville helps prove a point about the need for pairing cities for point-to-point service.

Independence Air obviously had too few of these routes, but Southwest Airlines thrived on making these connections during its early years.

So, what's the answer to keeping passenger planes in the air?

It's not to drop prices so low the corporation can't make a profit. Nor is it to hire less skilled pilots and mechanics.

Perhaps the solution is in greater deregulation to encourage building smaller, investor-owned airports that are not congested, and point-to-point flights.

More point-to-point flights sound awfully good here as the Tennessee Valley loses some of its popular Washington, D.C., routes.

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