Skybus Looks at Airports on Fringe

New low-fare airline plans routes to secondary fields near L.A., Boston.


Skybus soon will be flying to airports near Boston and Los Angeles, if everything goes as planned.

While the Columbus startup airline expects to reveal its initial routes and fares by the end of the month, these destinations give a glimpse of Skybus' strategy of saving money by flying to secondary airports.

Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire, about an hour's drive north of Boston, has agreed to waive landing and lease fees for Skybus for two years.

Additionally, officials at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., are expected to vote in early May on a lease agreement with Skybus that would generate $234,000 annually for the airport authority.

Burbank is northeast of Los Angeles, about 45 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.

Skybus spokesman Bob Tenenbaum declined to say whether the two cities will be among Skybus' initial routes, though he did confirm that the airline had signed a deal with the Portsmouth Airport Authority.

In both cases, Skybus would be the only airline offering nonstop service from Columbus to that specific airport.

However, JetBlue has offered fares as low as $39 each way directly into Boston for the past six months, and Delta flies nonstop into Los Angeles. Southwest, which flies via connecting service from Columbus into several southern California airports, including Burbank, could also respond by adding a direct flight from Columbus, airline consultant Doug Abbey said.

"It's going to be interesting to watch," said Abbey, a partner in the Washington-based Velocity Group. "Portsmouth has had a troubled history of being able to attract and maintain service. You can immediately stimulate leisure travel to places like Los Angeles, but on the other hand, Southwest would probably come in and match their fares."

Just how low the fares will be remains a key question. Skybus executives have vowed to offer significantly lower fares than competitors, and billboards in the area promise air travel for the price of a tank of gas.

Other experts expressed mixed feelings after their initial peek at routes.

"I have to admit, I'm a little surprised at these routes," said Joseph Schwieterman, an associate aviation professor with DePaul University and a former United Airlines pricing analyst. "It definitely looks like they're planning to carve a niche first before going to highly competitive markets. The more common way to launch would be to go into Orlando and Las Vegas first thing."

Observers speculate that Skybus will announce at least one Florida destination initially, but the company remains tight-lipped about details.

"They're looking for markets that are either underserved or not served now with nonstop flights," said Skybus' Tenenbaum. He said the airline plans to announce a handful of routes soon that start in late May, pending Federal Aviation Administration certification.



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