NEW FLIGHTS TO SAN DIEGO BEGIN; ExpressJet CEO visits for launch of nonstops;

ExpressJet Airlines launched two flights to San Diego Monday, bringing to seven the daily nonstops the new airline has added this spring between Spokane and California.

Whether the new routes - between Spokane, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego - become profitable remains to be seen, said James Ream, the president and CEO of ExpressJet Airlines, which is based in Houston.

Ream came to Spokane for his first visit Monday. In February, he announced the airline would launch a network of nonstops between 24 cities in the country. Other cities that gained ExpressJet service included El Paso, Raleigh, N.C., Boise and San Antonio.

"We looked at developing a network based on cities that we found that didn't have nonstops but were capable of supporting that service," Ream said.

Until then, ExpressJet had all of its 274 aircraft tied up providing contract flights for Delta and Continental airlines, along with some chartered flights. It set aside 44 of those aircraft to launch what is, in effect, the nation's newest commercial passenger airline.

Ream said it's too early to expect the flights anywhere in the new network to be profitable. "This will take a couple of years; it needs to develop," Ream said.

In April, the airline launched two daily round-trip nonstops between Spokane and Los Angeles Ontario airport and three from Spokane to Sacramento. The two daily flights to San Diego will also use 50-seat regional jets and offer meal service, free XM Radio and $1 beers for passengers.

The daily flights to Los Angeles and Sacramento are among the top third of the airline's new routes, based on the volume of tickets sold so far, Ream added.

ExpressJet's strategy is to establish a niche market share in cities that are growing, that serve a broad population area and that did not have existing nonstops to other similar cities, Ream said.

"As a niche provider, we have the option and luxury of taking time and trying to build a relationship with the communities we serve," he said. That effort includes meetings in San Diego and in Los Angeles with travel firms and other agencies, helping spread the message about Spokane and the Northwest.

"Folks in San Diego may not realize what the Spokane area has to offer," Ream added.

It's too early to talk about modifying the network of 24 cities, said Ream.

"Our main focus is to continue along and make this network successful," he said.

The airline is not considering changing or lowering its fares. Ream said the plan for ExpressJet is to not try to be a discount provider like Southwest Airlines. It pegs fares to the standard passenger fares charged by the major carriers for flights to comparable markets.

ExpressJet has a staff of roughly 20 in Spokane providing support services, baggage handling and tickets.

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