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ATA deal softens blow to airport

Deep flight reductions at ATA Airlines will barely make a dent at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. At least for now.

ATA will cut only one daily flight at the airport during the winter schedule ending in April, keeping service to Chicago's Midway Airport and its hub in Indianapolis, said airport director Noah Lagos.

As part of a bankruptcy reorganization, ATA was considering selling all its Midway gates to AirTran Airways. That would have meant the loss of all ATA flights from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and some 40 jobs for ATA employees there.

But the airline last month chose a $117-million bid that will give Southwest Airlines six more Midway gates and allowed ATA to keep flying from the airport close to downtown Chicago.

"I was very happy the Southwest deal went through as opposed to AirTran," Lagos said. "Those Midway flights were destined to go to Tampa with AirTran."

ATA will lose only one of three daily Chicago flights and maintain all three daily Indianapolis departures through the end of the winter schedule, he said.

ATA is the largest airline at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International, carrying about half of all passengers.

ATA will stop flying about 18 percent of its 61-plane fleet as it scales back to focus on the Indianapolis hub.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International lost its second-largest carrier when Largo-based Southeast Airlines abruptly shut down. After a record year in 2004 with 1.33-million passengers, the airport estimates traffic will drop to between 700,000 and 750,000 this year.

Meanwhile, a new airline at Tampa International Airport said on Wednesday it will cut back service after just three months.

Independence Air will end nonstop flights from Tampa to Huntsville, Ala., and Charleston and Greenville, S.C., on Feb. 1. The carrier also will reduce service to Knoxville, Tenn.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C., from two daily departures to one.

The same day Independence announced plans to start service to the southeastern U.S. cities with 50-seat jets on Nov. 3, Delta Air Lines said it would fly the same routes. Delta plans to continue its service, said Louis Miller, executive director at Tampa International.

"It's a perfect indication of what competition means," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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