Independence Airs arrival at Columbia Metropolitan Airport has driven down the cost of plane tickets for other airlines.
The low-cost carriers entry into the Columbia market in June 2004 immediately forced other airlines to drop prices.
The biggest impact has been on tickets to Washington, D.C., where Independence has its hub at Dulles International Airport. Even though fares have been creeping up, travelers are paying half of what it once cost to fly out of Columbia.
Thats a huge deal for people in our community, said Mike Flack, the Columbia airports executive director.
The U.S. Department of Transportation releases a quarterly consumer airfare report for 1,000 routes in the United States:
In the third quarter of 2003, an average ticket from Columbia to Washington Dulles cost $223 one way.
A year later, the same one-way ticket averaged $98, according to the federal survey.
The Transportation Departments analysis did not reflect Independence Airs fare data. The airline was expected to start reporting its fare data this month.
In Independence Airs own analysis, the industry average for one-way fares from Columbia to Washington has dropped from $166 to $70, according to a document released by Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Washington, D.C., used to be the worst case for expensive tickets in Columbia, Flack said. US Airways offered the only direct service, and Delta offered routes through Atlanta or Cincinnati.
There just was no low airfare service, and Delta and US Air were selling it for as much as they could, Flack said.
Travelers and their budgets have benefited.
Don Fowler, owner of Fowler Communications marketing firm, flies to Washington at least once a week, usually on short notice. This week, he spent $450 on a US Airways ticket.
A year ago, the same ticket would have cost at least $900, Fowler said.
Its a godsend, he said.
Bob Harrell, an airfare analyst with Harrell Associates in New York, said he doesnt track fares from the Columbia airport, but said he wouldnt be surprised to see the drop in ticket prices.
Any time you have a carrier like Independence Air come into a market served by Delta or US Air, fares drop dramatically, Harrell said.
Independence Air offers six daily flights to Dulles and one flight each day to Orlando and Tampa.