ExpressJet Airlines, a regional spinoff of Continental Airlines, announced Monday that it will launch daily nonstop flights in April from Tucson International Airport to Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; and Sacramento and Ontario, Calif.
ExpressJet plans to add nonstop service from Tucson to San Antonio in June or July, with more destinations possible, airport officials said.
The new service, announced by representatives of Houston-based ExpressJet and the Tucson Airport Authority, will benefit local tourism and economic-development efforts, local officials said.
"All five of these cities represent key markets for us, both for group ***conferences*** as well as leisure travel," said Jonathan Walker, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Just how much incremental business we'll get from this, I can't say, but we will see an increase."
Austin, in particular, has "a high critical mass of knowledge- based workers and thus knowledge-based industry," noted John Grabo, director of marketing and international programs at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park.
As Tucson "grows our bioscience companies, clearly access to Austin is going to be important," he added.
Bob Hagen, chairman of the Southern Arizona Tech Council, also was optimistic about the possibility of added nonstop service.
"It just makes us being able to get there ***Austin and Kansas City*** and interact with the people easier," he said. "From a business standpoint, it's very helpful."
By flying to locations previously underserved by Tucson International Airport, an organization such as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. has more firepower behind its negotiations to recruit and retain companies, said TREO President and CEO Joe Snell.
With respect to economic development, he explained, "direct flights are the gas that fuels the engine."
Pima County's population base, which recently hit the 1 million mark, and its concurrent job growth were both factors in ExpressJet's choice to come to the Old Pueblo, said George Semak, ExpressJet's senior director of flight operations. Another was Tucson's proximity to the other 20 cities served by the ExpressJet network.
The 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145XR regional jets used on the new routes are capable of flying up to 2,300 nautical miles without refueling, ExpressJet said.
Though marketed with the business flier in mind, the airline's services are not limited to the corporate set. Flights will include amenities such as valet carry-on bag service and XM Satellite Radio at every seat.
The initial service will consist of three daily nonstops to Ontario, two nonstops each to Sacramento and Austin, and one to Kansas City, an airport official said. Fares from Tucson will start as low as $59 one way to Ontario International Airport, about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
ExpressJet began taking reservations Monday for the initial flights to Kansas City and Ontario, which start April 2, and for the Austin and Sacramento flights, which start April 9.
Flights to San Antonio will begin this summer, and a decision on whether to add more cities will be made at that time, said Bonnie Allin, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority.
Other cities ExpressJet plans to serve include San Diego, Monterey, Fresno and Bakersfield, Calif.; New Orleans; Albuquerque; Spokane, Wash.; Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Neb.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Birmingham, Ala.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and El Paso and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Flight information and reservations are available through ExpressJet's Web site, , and by phone at 1-888-958- 9538.
ExpressJet plans to have reservations available soon on major air-travel Web sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz.
ExpressJet Airlines will begin non-stop service Monday from both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Albuquerque International Sunport confirmed that Express-Jet plans to expand service to the city but said details would not be released until Monday.
The San Bernardino County's Economic Development Agency had worked with ExpressJet for a couple of months to recruit and train the 200 employees the airline will need for its Ontario operations.
"In most of these markets you certainly wouldn't want a plane bigger than a 50-seater, and you certainly wouldn't want to fly it more than twice a day," Ream acknowledges.