Despite his experience with Skybus Airlines, Henry Isaacson is not down on discount carriers. The chairman of Piedmont Triad International Airport says Skybus, which shut down less than three months after opening a hub at the Greensboro airport, showed PTI could thrive with one. “We had more than 81,000 passengers fly on Skybus through March. It was the airport’s No. 1 carrier.”
When Skybus filed for bankruptcy in early April, the Columbus, Ohio-based airline employed about 80 there — far short of the 375 it promised the state last year in exchange for nearly $4 million in incentives over nine years. It wasn’t around long enough to get any state money, but the airport, with help from local governments, spent about $1.3 million on marketing and terminal improvements. Isaacson says it recouped those expenses from rent, parking fees and concessions. When the hub was running, PTI had 91 daily flights to 24 cities; the airport now has 75 to 20 cities.
Skybus’ business model could have been successful, he says, but for skyrocketing fuel prices and tight credit. “We were getting people from all over the state — from Charlotte and Raleigh — as well as from Virginia and South Carolina.” The numbers Skybus put up make a good case for the airport, he adds. “We’re going to aggressively search for more low-fare service — from our existing airlines and from new carriers.”
Skybus already has helped recruiting — only not in the way Isaacson describes. Allegiant Air dropped plans to pull out of PTI after Skybus departed. Make that because it departed, according to Robert Ashcroft, Allegiant vice president of planning. “The presence of Skybus was a destabilizing factor behind our original decision to withdraw,” he said in a press release. “We preferred to stay clear of a company acting in ways we did not understand.”
Tyri Squyres, a spokeswoman for Allegiant, explained that company officials were puzzled when Skybus executives said they were following the example of Dublin, Ireland-based low-cost carrier Ryanair but then put hubs in cities such as Greensboro and Columbus. Ryanair’s main hub is London. “Some of their selections of routes, and their planning in general, we didn’t understand it.” Allegiant had planned to end service from Greensboro at the end of May. But it not only will keep its daily flights to Orlando and Tampa, Fla., it will resume service this month to Fort Lauderdale, which it canceled in January after Skybus opened its hub in the Gate City.
RF Micro Devices has entered new territory in its hometown. The Greensboro-based company, which makes cell-phone parts, has steadily added workers since it began operations in 1991. That changed in mid-April, when it announced it was consolidating some testing in China and would trim 80 jobs in the Gate City. Three weeks later, it dropped a bigger bomb: It had cut 200 more local jobs as part of a companywide restructuring. The layoffs leave about 1,800 of its 3,800 worldwide jobs there. That’s one reason it still has an ample reserve of good will. Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, says he regrets the layoffs but is sympathetic to the company’s needs. “RF Micro needs to be able to improve productivity and profitability. That’s the company’s No. 1 goal. That plays to the other 1,800 employees that they have. Whatever is good for RF Micro is good for Greensboro and the Triad.”