Comair Makes Bid to Offer Nonstop Service to Little Rock

Comair, a Delta Air Lines carrier, has applied to offer Arkansas' only nonstop flight to Washington, D.C., which would cut an average of three hours off round-trip travel time.Comair filed the application to get the gate slots at Reagan National Airport. Comair is competing with four other airlines trying to add nonstop service from Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Wis., and Pensacola, Fla.

"We've got a better than 50/50 shot at this," said Philip Launius, spokesman for Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field.Comair would start by using a 50-seat, stage 3 Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft. It forecasts serving nearly 28,000 passengers during the first full year of service.

Big and popular airports, such as New York's LaGuardia and Reagan, offer a certain number of gate slots for which airlines can apply.Comair said its application for Little Rock National best meets the U.S. Department of Transportation's criteria for the Reagan National slots. Among the criteria are that the airport shouldn't have existing nonstop flights to Reagan National and that it should offer service to small communities.

Launius said Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee already have nonstop service to Washington, and, although Pensacola doesn't, other Florida airports offer many nonstop flights. Arkansas has no nonstop flights to Washington, although Little Rock National does offer nonstop service to Baltimore.

"We're hopeful," Launius said.

"It's something we need. This is the state's capital." The proposal said that traffic from Little Rock National to the Washington area grew 19 percent between 2004 and 2005, from 30,952 to 36,865 passengers.

According to the proposal, the flight would be 4 hours and 50 minutes round-trip, cutting more than three hours from the average time of a one-stop flight.

"It's obviously considerable if you can get on a plane [without stopping] and get off," Launius said.

Little Rock National has been asking airlines to add a nonstop flight to the nation's capital since former President Clinton took office, Launius said.

Many state politicians and government officials use the Little Rock airport to get to the nation's capital, Launius noted.

Launius said that although the airline has taken the initiative to apply for the flight, the airport is following up by writing letters to the Department of Transportation and by alerting its lobbyist.

"This is a golden opportunity, and we're crossing everything that we can cross that this will happen," Launius said.

The flights would depart Little Rock National at 7 a.m. and arrive at Reagan at 10:10 a.m. Eastern time and depart Washington at 11:05 a.m., arriving at 12:45 p.m. Central time. Prevailing westerly winds account for the time difference.

This article was published 02/22/2007

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