Airport tries to land new routes; Airlines cautious about offering new destinations

DAYTON - AirTran Airways' startup of nonstop service from Dayton International Airport to Las Vegas has been a popular offering since it began in mid-August. But, as a result, the Dayton airport's discussions ended with another airline - Las...


DAYTON - AirTran Airways' startup of nonstop service from Dayton International Airport to Las Vegas has been a popular offering since it began in mid-August.

But, as a result, the Dayton airport's discussions ended with another airline - Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air - about starting up similar service from Dayton.

There are steady streams of passengers flying from Dayton to Atlanta and Los Angeles. And, AirTran will resume daily service to Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 7 after cutting back earlier this year to Saturday-only flights.

There are winners and losers in the ongoing efforts by airport administrators from Dayton and other cities to persuade airlines to commit to offering new or expanded service. In a business wracked by bankruptcies and increased fuel prices, airlines are cautious and often are more likely to consider expanding service in a market where they already have a presence, than starting service to a new market.

"It's very competitive," said Gene Conrad, air service development coordinator for Dayton International Airport. "You have all these different airlines, and they have all these different strategies they're looking at. All of us are competing for the limited resources. With the bankruptcies, cutbacks in capacity ... there are only so many airplanes to go around."

Officials from Dayton and other airports meet face-to-face twice a year with airlines at industry conferences and have other discussions as well, in hopes of luring new service to win a greater number of passengers.

Attending those conferences and keeping in touch with airline executives is vital, Conrad said. Dayton has 5.1 million residents within a 75-mile radius, but competes directly for passengers with the Columbus, Indianapolis and Cincinnati airports.

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce works closely with Dayton airport officials to pursue air service that appeals to the region's business executives. Neither Conrad nor Phil Parker, the chamber's president, would say which airlines they may be focusing on in their contacts. But both said they are often asked whether Southwest or JetBlue airlines would serve Dayton.

Parker said both those airlines have expressed interest. But, he said he doubts that either will commit to Dayton soon because of financial pressures in the airline industry.

"Overall, we're pleased with the trend that we're seeing as far as passenger usage and the airlines' willingness to expand their service to some of those destinations that we have deemed important to our community," Parker said.

Airlines consider their own business needs first, including whether it would be advantageous in their route structure to be moving airplanes through a particular city, aviation consultant Michael Boyd said.

"The issue is, it's not what you need, it's what the airlines need," said Boyd, president of the Boyd Group consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo.

Dayton's mix of air travelers is about 60 percent business and 40 percent leisure, Conrad said.

Atlanta is the No. 1 destination from Dayton, with an average of 320 daily passengers making that trip daily. Atlanta is a popular business destination, with NCR Corp. and LexisNexis among the companies maintaining offices there. And an average of 130 passengers fly to Los Angeles daily from Dayton.

Dayton International Airport

It ranks 81st among U.S. airports in terms of passenger traffic. Passenger boardings at Dayton for January through August 2007 totaled 955,730, a 10 percent increase from the same period in 2006. The airport is projecting 1.4 million passenger boardings for all of 2007.

Airlines which serve Dayton:

AirTran

American

Continental

Delta

Frontier

Midwest

Northwest

United

US Airways

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