Serving the Under-Served

Consumers drive a hubbing mentality at VPS

Vision Airlines began as a charter company in 1994 and was primarily operating charter service from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, a business that grew into a full-time charter gig flying all types of passengers, including politicians, sports teams, and celebrities.

Comments Bill Maloney, Vision director of business development, “We then started expanding our fleet with larger aircraft and flying for the U.S. government, some resorts and casinos … that business has grown, and last fall we began scheduled service.”

The Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS), which serves the Florida Gulf Coast resort cities of Destin and Fort Walton Beach, has been a key partner in the Vision business strategy. The airline currently provides non-stop service to 18 cities from VPS and is near to surpassing Delta as the lead market-share carrier.

Says airport director Greg Donovan, “Vision is an established charter operator and a Part 121 carrier, but when it was considering going into the scheduled carrier business, we saw something with them pretty early on — that there was an agility that a smaller company has over some of the other mainline or legacy carriers. That agility is to go into not fully-defined markets in terms of origin and destination.”

Maloney says the airline is trying to follow a lot of what Allegiant has done, which is to provide direct service to leisure destinations from underserved markets. “That’s been our goal on the scheduled side … to really try and replicate what Allegiant has done in other markets ... whether it’s Destin or some of these other Southwestern cities.

“Also, I think when we say leisure focus, because we go into most of these cities with less-than-daily service, it really is designed around a vacation experience.”

Making the case

Vision wasn’t necessarily interested in data that comes from statistical O&D factors of existing routes, says Donovan, “They wanted to find something entirely different,” he explains.

“For us, we’ve had over the past four years a maturity in our relationship with the hotel industry, and understanding what the hotel and resort industry has known for a long time ... where people are coming from.

“The lack of service into our airport and the region as a whole kept a lot of the passengers from coming here as frequently as they potentially could.

“We put together data from our industries and shared that with the airline; we showed them markets that were strong from a driving standpoint ... from an air service standpoint, there is a lot of potential for development.”

Says Vision’s Maloney, “We allowed hubbing as far as connecting routes because people were doing it on their own; they were stacking us — allowing people to continue or make the transfer in Destin. This way, passengers didn’t have to recheck a bag and come back in.

“So consumers primarily drove the hubbing mentality. One of the reasons we chose Destin is because it is such a great market that was underserved from an air service standpoint.

“I think you find in a lot of places, especially here in the Southeast ... these regional leisure destinations, and Destin has been one of those for many years. For us to help that grow was really important; that is why we chose Destin as our focus.”

In May, 111,566 total passengers (enplanements and deplanements) came through VPS. “That’s a 57 percent increase from May of 2010 and breaks a 54-year history here,” comments Donovan.

“Sustaining that service long-term is a community effort, not just an airport responsibility. There is a lot of competition on the Gulf Coast between airports, and the key element for us is describing to the community outside of the aviation profession that taking market share from an adjacent airport really doesn’t grow the economy.

“The key is opening up new markets and bringing people in that wouldn’t normally come. The product that Vision is offering is distinctly different than what the other services offered in the region are.”

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