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4th daily flight at airport may return

Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport may not have to wait as long as officials thought to see the return of its fourth daily flight.

But local officials say they still are working to increase passenger levels so American Eagle also will bring its larger regional jets back to Lawton.

Lawton went to three flights a day in mid-December after American Eagle said it wanted to increase its enplanements, or the number of passengers in aircraft seats. Airport officials revealed last month that American Eagle had 20,616 empty seats on flights that had taken off from Lawton in the first 11 months of 2017, and 25,111 empty seats on aircraft that landed at Lawton in the same time period. That gave the airlines an average passenger load of 65-67 percent.

But American Eagle wants a more profitable margin on all of its flights  including those between Lawton and Dallas-Fort Worth's Love Field  and that means passenger loads of at least 90 percent. Airport Director Barbara McNally told the airport authority last month that American Eagle had decided to move Lawton's fourth daily flight to another market where passenger loads were higher, and the only way Lawton could get its flight back was to increase its load factor.

American Eagle told Lawton it would reconsider the decision at the end of March, but Michelle Ward, general manager of American Eagle's Lawton station, said last week her company expects to restore Lawton's fourth daily flight in February. But Lawton will be keeping its 45-passenger regional jets rather than getting the 70-passenger jets the airport had been using.

Ward said Lawton may have a chance to regain those larger regional jets in April, but that decision by American Eagle's corporate office will depend on the passenger levels Lawton runs between now and April. The decision to go to three daily flights and using smaller regional jets did achieve American Eagle's goal: Ward said Lawton's average passenger levels are now at 90 percent.

"Ninety percent is the load factor we are aiming for," she said.

But members of the Lawton Metropolitan Area Airport Authority said their goal is to increase passenger levels across the board so enplanements remain high even when the fourth daily flight returns.

Lawton airport and officials with the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce have been studying the issue for months and have met with military officials to see if more military personnel can be booked on flights through Lawton.

McNally said she and airport authority members were to meet with Fort Sill leaders, who have already indicated they will work with city officials to move more soldiers out of Lawton's airport. That move would help Lawton increase its passenger levels and, in turn, help the airport win back its larger aircraft.

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