Starting March 11, Charleston's Yeager Airport will begin offering thrice-weekly nonstop air service to Las Vegas aboard 180-seat Boeing 757s.
The new service will be provided by Southern Skyways, the Atlanta-based scheduled charter operator that initiated Charleston-Myrtle Beach air service last summer and is expected to resume flights to the popular South Carolina beach resort early next year.
Las Vegas is the fifth-most popular destination for travelers departing Yeager Airport, drawing about 18,000 passengers a year. With the addition of new low-cost service from Southern Skyways, the number of Las Vegas-bound passengers is expected to approach 30,000, according to Rick Atkinson, Yeager's executive director.
The new flights will depart Charleston on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and return on Tuesdays and Fridays. One-way fares to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas will start at $169. First-class service also will be available.
The Charleston-Las Vegas flights will continue on to Oakland, Calif. One-way fares to Oakland are expected to start at about $240.
Currently, round-trip flights to Las Vegas from Yeager range from about $550 to $700.
The four-hour, 1,600-mile Las Vegas flights will represent the longest non-stop service ever offered from Yeager. Currently, Houston, 998 air miles distant, is the farthest non-stop destination from the Charleston airport.
"This is exactly the kind of service we were told by regional airport supporters several years ago that we would never be able to offer from Charleston," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
Carper credited a $22 million runway extension and taxiway improvement project and the removal of nearby hilltop obstructions that made more fuel-efficient takeoffs possible with allowing long-haul flights using larger aircraft. Work on the runway extension project is expected to be complete in March.
Just before Thursday's announcement of the Las Vegas flights, the Central West Virginia Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau voted to offer a stop-loss fund of $125,000 to Southern Skyways to buy unsold tickets and cover marketing expenses if sales don't materialize as expected.
"We're confident the new service will be successful, but there is some risk," Carper said.
During Southern Skyways' inaugural season of service to Myrtle Beach last year, only seven seats were unsold.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau also voted to authorize spending up to $500,000 to invest in an airline that would establish Charleston as a base of operations and provide significant increases in air service from Yeager.
Carper said Thursday's announcement "will be the first of several we hope to be making soon regarding new air service."
Non-stop service to a Florida destination is among the new air service links being pursued by airport officials.
The new Las Vegas-Oakland service will be offered year-round, and can be booked now through Southern Skyways' Web site at www.southernskyways.com or by calling (877) 235-9768.
The added service to Las Vegas should not adversely affect business at Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, where table games go into operation early next year, Carper said, since the Nevada city already is such a popular destination for so many area leisure travelers.
To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer use E-mail or call 348-5169.