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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Florida Fancy

Evansville airport adds new routes and seeks to restore old ones

Evansville Regional Airport officials are promoting the additions of new nonstop flights to Florida while saying they continue to pursue more connections, such as the resumption of daily service to Chicago, Illinois.

Joined by Mayor Stephanie Terry and Vanderburgh County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave, EVV on Feb. 12 announced that Allegiant Air will begin twice-weekly connections with St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) in Clearwater, Florida, on June 13.

It’s the first time EVV has provided direct service to the Tampa, Florida, area. The airport had sought the destination for several years.

“For our community, it’s always been highly requested, but also the data we collect shows that we have a lot of travelers who go to the west coast of Florida,” says Nate Hahn, EVV’s executive director. “We had been pushing for a Florida west coast destination on the beach. This gives us that.”

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is six miles north of St. Petersburg, Florida, and 17 miles southwest of Tampa. The nonstop back-and-forth flights will be on Thursdays and Sundays, and Allegiant says one-way fares will start at $49.

Like Allegiant’s existing connection between EVV and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), the PIE service will be year-round. Those flights are twice a week, with a third weekly flight on Tuesdays added this summer. Allegiant also offers seasonal nondaily connections between Evansville and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS).

The other recent announcement of new air service by EVV was the entry of Breeze Airways into the market. That low-cost carrier, based in Utah, starts nondaily flights between Evansville and Orlando International Airport (MCO) on Feb. 23.

“We’re excited for them and want them to be successful as well,” Hahn says.

Usage of EVV plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is still not back to pre-2020 levels when the airport was seeing about 250,000 boardings per year.

But EVV officials say traffic is rising — last year saw 168,577 boardings, up from 155,348 (8.5 percent) in 2022.

January of this year led the January 2023 pace by 5 percent, according to the airport.

EVV officials say numbers like those could bode well for adding more flights, but daily service to Chicago still has not resumed.

United Airlines, which had offered an EVV connection with Chicago, ended that service in January 2022 and pulled out of Evansville entirely.

American Airlines suspended its Evansville-Chicago flights in September 2020, restored them the following May, and then halted them again in early spring 2022. The flights remain paused. The airport in Owensboro, Kentucky, meanwhile, in recent months started daily flights to and from Chicago via Contour Airlines.

Along the way, Delta also halted its flights between Evansville and Detroit, Michigan. The defections leave EVV with three remaining daily connections, all southern: Atlanta, Georgia, via Delta, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dallas, Texas, via American.

EVV officials say they are well aware of the community’s desire to regain flights to large Midwest hubs. Local governments are participating in that effort — Evansville and Vanderburgh County each contributed $250,000 from their American Rescue Plan Act money to an air service development fund.

Airport officials recently have asked the Warrick County and Henderson County, Kentucky, governments to add funding to that effort. As yet, those agencies have not.

How are such dollars used to attract and retain air service? According to the Federal Aviation Administration, small- or medium-sized airports can incentivize airlines by waiving or reducing landing fees or other airport fees.

Airport-sponsored incentives also can be used on marketing campaigns to promote the local airport and flights it offers, the FAA says.

Community-sponsored incentives, meanwhile, can include direct financing of routes, minimum revenue guarantees, and marketing, according to FAA guidance.

Tri-State Aero, which is owned by Evansville-based United Companies and is EVV’s fixed-based private flight operator, seeks to assist the airport with keeping air carriers’ costs down by fueling planes and providing maintenance as necessary.

Hahn says the specifics of airline recruitment strategies are “typically held close to the chest by communities to not tip their hands to others,” but EVV is in touch with air carriers of all types about restoring old routes and adding new ones.

“We continue to work with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, local businesses, and our elected leaders to ensure every tool is available for airline conversations,” Hahn says.

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