Allegiant Will Take Flight at Mid-America

Allegiant Air LLC, a low-fare carrier catering to vacation travelers, will soon offer service from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport to the airline's Las Vegas home, pending approval expected today from St. Clair County leaders.

"It's a win-win situation for our passengers and the airline," MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell said.

Allegiant Air plans to start service from the St. Clair County-owned airport on April 29. The airline initially would offer two flights a week on Monday and Friday evenings to McCarran International Airport, Cantwell said. Regular prices for a one-way ticket would range from $94 to $199.

A one-way introductory fare would be offered April 8 for $49. The introductory fare would be valid for travel through June 16, but doesn't cover the flight returning to MidAmerica.

The airline -- which currently operates occasional charter flights for Harrah's from Mid America to a casino and hotel in Laughlin, Nev. -- on Monday wouldn't confirm or deny its intentions to establish regular service to MidAmerica.

"I can't confirm service (to MidAmerica Airport), but I can confirm that I'll be at a press conference there on Tuesday," Allegiant Air spokesman Tyri Squyres said.

St. Clair County, in exchange for one year of scheduled air service, will waive landing fees for a year and offer Allegiant Air $220,000 in marketing incentives, Cantwell said. However, the airport won't be responsible if the airline loses money and doesn't plan to offer revenue guarantees.

The St. Clair County Public Building Commission today will meet during a special meeting to discuss the details of the deal. The commission scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. at the airport where it's expected to formally announce Allegiant Air's arrival.

The airline already has added three cities this year to its list of destinations served, Squyres said. Allegiant Air currently serves 16 cities nationwide and caters to Las Vegas-bound travelers. "We are sort of a niche airline," she said. "We are selling the destination just as much as the airline."

Local leaders welcomed the news of Allegiant Air's pending arrival.

"I think this is another good step," O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said. "The airport's got to get going."

MidAmerica St. Louis Airport's already seen two scheduled passenger carriers, Pan Am Airlines and Great Plains Airlines, come and go. Pan Am couldn't survive a downturn in the industry after Sept. 11 and Great Plains declared bankruptcy after three months of service.

Currently, Lithia Springs, Ga.-based TransMeridian Airlines is the only airline ferrying passengers in and out of Mid America. The charter airline offers flights to Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Fla., with continuing service to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

TransMeridian's recent success at MidAmerica is part of what sold Allegiant Air on coming to Illinois, according to airline industry analyst Kelly Slusarski. Slusarski works for Mead & Hunt, a Eugene, Ore., based consulting firm that provided potential passenger data for St. Clair County's airport.

"TransMeridian went ahead and took the risk," Slusarski said. "They appear to be on the way to making a profit and that's what appealed to Allegiant Air."

What's appealing to Mid America Airport is the additional funding that could be headed its way with Allegiant Air's arrival. A new scheduled air carrier would allow the airport to apply for $1 million in additional federal funding and to request a $2 to $3 service charge on tickets.

Allegiant Air plans to utilize a 150-seat MD-80 jet aircraft for service to Las Vegas.

It's the same airplane Allegiant Air currently uses when it operates Harrah's charter flights from to Laughlin, Nev. Harrah's charter flight from MidAmerica runs about six times a year, Cantwell said.