Aviation Authority pushing for flights

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 19, 2010
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by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

The economy may be slow and consumers may be sitting on their wallets, but the Jacksonville Aviation Authority is still looking for ways to convince airlines to add nonstop domestic and international flights out of Jacksonville International Airport.

During its monthly meeting on Monday, the authority’s board of directors will vote on adopting an extended incentive plan designed to make Jacksonville more attractive.

Michael Stewart, JAA director of external affairs, said the authority has an incentive program in place. On Monday, the board will hear more about plans to introduce multiple weekly international flights, with San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the top of the list.

“We are after new service and unserviced routes,” said Stewart. “We want to expand to include any international markets. We can do things like offer reduced rents. That (rent) is just a small percentage of what an airline makes on a route. Incentives, in and of themselves, are not attractive to an airline. They look at the route.”

Stewart said San Juan, which is considered an international destination even though Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, makes the most sense. It’s essentially the hub of the Caribbean and the Jacksonville Port Authority does a lot of business with the Puerto Rican capital.

“What’s so attractive about San Juan is the business connection,” said Stewart. “They do a lot of business with the port and it’s a huge cruise port.”

Stewart said it’s possible within a year or so to have three to five flights a week to San Juan and that eventually there could be two flights a day three days a week.

“Someone could fly in and out and do a day’s business,” he said.

In addition to daily service to San Juan, Stewart said the Jacksonville area’s golf industry is attractive to Europeans and there is talk of potentially adding a charter flight to a European destination.

Domestically, Stewart said the aviation authority would like to re-establish nonstop flights to Denver and Los Angeles. Both flights previously existed, but were dropped by the airlines because of rising fuel costs, said Stewart. The flights became too expensive for passengers and the airlines.

“We were running at 80 percent capacity when we had nonstop flights to Los Angeles,” said Stewart.

He also said the JAA would like to add a nonstop flight to Phoenix.

Currently, between nine and 18 airlines fly into JIA, about half of those on a daily basis. Last year, about 5.65 million passengers went through JIA, a drop for the third year in a row and an indication of the overall health of the economy.

In 2007, about 6.3 million passengers went through JIA and in 2008 the figure was right at 6 million.

“If we can be above 5.65 million this year, we will be happy,” said Stewart, adding January and February were both off about 3 percent from projections.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. in the Ed Austin board room in the JAA administration building near the airport. It is open to the public.

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