Richmond Airport Targets Fliers from Fredericksburg

Jack Elwell is tired of fighting traffic from Fredericksburg to Washington-area airports.

"You have to time your trip to Dulles or National not factoring in an accident," said Elwell, a retired FBI agent. "If there's an accident, forget it."

Gus Gyllenhoff, a retired Marine, agreed. Road congestion and accidents have gotten out of hand in Northern Virginia, making it hard to catch flights.

"Even a sprinkling of rain, and they lose their minds," he said of motorists on Interstate 95.

The men and others interviewed this week at a Marine Corps veterans lunch in Fredericksburg said they have found an alternative by driving south to Richmond International Airport.

"I prefer to fly out of Richmond," Gyllenhoff said. Even if southbound traffic backs up on I-95, he likes having the option of taking U.S. 1 toward the capital.

Local airport officials are hoping more folks make the more than hourlong drive from the Fredericksburg area.

In the past two months, the Richmond airport has advertised in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and mailed letters to about 2,500 members of the regional chamber of commerce.

"For a long time, we've looked at Fredericksburg as a market to expand," said Troy Bell, marketing director for the airport. "Fredericksburg's not directly served by another airport."

It is one of the state's fastest-growing areas, but its traffic congestion has made air travelers look for such alternatives as Richmond, according to Bell and Fredericksburg-area residents.

The drive from downtown Fredericksburg to Richmond takes 1 hour, 10 minutes, according to the airport's planning documents. By contrast, the drive from Fredericksburg to Washington Dulles International Airport takes 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Reagan Washington National Airport is about an hour's drive from downtown Fredericksburg.

The letter to Fredericksburg chamber members promotes the arrival of two discount carriers, AirTran and JetBlue, and the overall fare drop that followed.

The promotional piece also touts Richmond airport parking, which ranges from $6 in satellite lots to $10 a day in garages. Richmond's daily prices are lower than those listed at Dulles and National, where satellite parking is $9; Dulles' cheapest garage parking is $15, while National lists $28 a day, according to the airports' Web sites.

Richmond's promotional letter provides directions from Fredericksburg's central business district to the airport. The drive "takes about one hour using a much less congested approach via I-95 South and I-295 to the Airport Drive exit," the letter states.

"The trip is real short," said Dave LaBoissiere, a retired Marine officer. "You can have your family drop you off and get home in a reasonable amount of time."

Elwell added, "The parking in Richmond is so much more convenient than either Dulles or National."

The Capital Region Airport Commission has budgeted $487,000 for advertising and marketing in the next fiscal year. Some members have suggested more may be needed to better promote the airport.

"Keep in mind this is a new thing for us," said Beverley W. "Booty" Armstrong, the commission's chairman. "We've never had fares worth advertising."

Armstrong suggested at the group's June meeting that the airport may increase promotions to travelers around Charlottesville, Staunton and Newport News.

"I still get the feeling we're not well-known," he said.

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