Second airline ready to fly jets to Chicago

American Eagle follows route of United Express


of the Journal Star

PEORIA American Eagle will end United Express' brief monopoly in jet flights to Chicago early next year, giving central Illinois travelers a choice in jet travel from Peoria for the first time in years.

The feeder airline for American Airlines which stopped flying jets between the Greater Peoria Regional Airport and Chicago in 1994 will start one daily round-trip jet flight to O'Hare International Airport on Jan. 6.

That announcement by Peoria airport officials Wednesday comes just weeks after United Express unveiled plans for two daily round-trip jet flights from Peoria to O'Hare, starting Dec. 15.

"We knew when United Express announced their service some other carrier would probably change their service to stay competitive. It's going to be great for the consumer," Peoria airport Director Bruce Carter said.

United's plan partly prodded American, said airline spokeswoman Elizabeth Ninomiya.

"As always, we do have to remain competitive," she said. "It wasn't the factor. It was a factor."

Said Carter: "Other competitors will have to look at their service," such as Trans World Express, which doesn't go to Chicago but does fly turbo- prop jets to St. Louis.

Many Peoria-area travelers fly to those destinations just to catch connecting flights elsewhere, and may find jets more desirable.

"(TWE) could lose their market share. ... I'd say 80 to 95 percent (of fliers) make connections through the hubs," Carter said, adding he had "real strong discussions" with Trans World Airlines. TWE is the feeder service for the St. Louis-based airline.

Peoria's other turbo-prop service is by Northwest Airlink, flying to and from Minneapolis and Detroit.

American Eagle's plan is to have a 50-seat ERJ-145 jet leave Peoria at 6:53 a.m. daily, returning here at 9:19 p.m. The carrier's five other daily round- trip Chicago flights will be by turbo-prop. Ticket prices between jets and turbo-props will be comparable.

American has purchased 16 ERJ-145's to date. Delivery is pending on 34 more. Ninomiya said the undelivered jets have yet to be assigned and could replace turbo-props here.

United Express, the feeder service for United Airlines, will have a pair of round-trip jet flights using 50-seat Canadair Regional jets, in addition to two daily turbo-prop flights.

The decision by United Express to lead the way in jet service followed lobbying by lawmakers, airport officials and area businessmen, who argued that the Peoria area has a growing air commuter market.

Jet service is seen as preferable by many travelers because of a quieter, smoother ride.

Their better speed won't necessarily help on short hops to O'Hare. Congestion can force planes to circle and await landing.

The service upgrades come as the airport prepares to host coast-to-coast jet flights via Des Moines-based AccessAir.

The airline is expected to start flying from Peoria to Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., early next year.

"It looks like the first part of January," Carter said.

The only other jet service here is United Express' Peoria- to-Denver service. Carter said he is lobbying American for a Peoria-to-Dallas run.

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