Spartanburg Airport Tries to Lure Low-Cost Carriers

At an annual transportation summit, the airport blamed the loss of traffic on the cost to fly out of Greenville-Spartanburg.


GREER, S.C. -- Stung by higher ticket prices that have sent travelers to other airports, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is courting at least five low-cost air carriers.

GSP captures about 65 percent of its passenger market, with about 35 percent "leaking" into Charlotte, Atlanta or Columbia, according to airport data.

At an annual transportation summit hosted by three area chambers of commerce Wednesday, the airport blamed the loss of traffic on the cost to fly out of Greenville-Spartanburg.

Walk-up tickets generally cost $200 to $300 more here than in Charlotte or Atlanta, and those bought two weeks in advance are about $100 more at GSP than at the other two airports.

Air carriers that serve GSP "don't have any incentive to lower their fares," spokeswoman Rosylin Weston said.

"The only incentive they would have would be competition with a low-cost carrier."

Greenville-Spartanburg officials have made contact with Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran, Spirit and Frontier airlines, Weston said Wednesday at the transportation summit. The airport has openly acknowledged courting Southwest and JetBlue in the past.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air began service out of GSP this month, offering flights to and from Orlando, Fla. One-way tickets, once initial promotions subside, are expected to be in the $79 to $89 range.

But that's one city, while the now-defunct Independence Air flew to 37 destinations when it closed its doors in January. Independence Air's presence at GSP had a measurable impact on passenger traffic locally, and that traffic has decreased since the first of the year.

Some think Allegiant, if successful, could be used as a tool to help lure other low-cost carriers to the Upstate.

Marketing data shows that Southwest "has a huge void in the Carolinas," Weston said, with its closest service situated in Raleigh-Durham, Birmingham and Jacksonville, Fla.

"That's something we point out to them every chance we get," she said.

JetBlue launched service out of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport earlier this year.

"We continue to have conversations with them to determine if their coming into Charlotte has somehow diminished the chance of them coming into our marketplace," Weston said.

"They have assured us it has not."

GSP is particularly interested in landing Denver-based Frontier Airlines, Weston said, because a direct trip from the Upstate to the Mile-High City would open up the entire Northwest.

Aside from the obvious impact on a passenger's bottom line, low-fare carriers -- and the list of direct flight destinations an airport offers -- crop up in economic development, too.

"I hear the issue all the time: This is a difficult place to invest, because it's a difficult place to get to," said John Warner, chairman of Greenville-based Innoventure.

Warner said if a company had to choose between Atlanta -- where it was more able to fly people in, have a board meeting, and fly them home in the same day -- and Greenville-Spartanburg, it would probably choose the former.

He said GSP needed to increase its direct flight destinations, particularly to places like Boston, the Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, that are known for the amount of venture capital that comes out of them.

Greenville-Spartanburg is working on establishing a direct flight to Boston with an existing carrier, Weston said.

She also pointed out that if a certain destination would help land an economic development deal for the Upstate, airport officials need to be told about it, so that knowledge could be used to help leverage the destination from a new or existing airline.

Low-cost carriers are also attractive to many businesses because they can reduce those businesses' annual travel expenses.

GSP offers direct flights to 16 destinations.


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