December 18, 2018
By Will Robinson – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority had a record year, helped by four carriers announcing a total of 16 new nonstop routes. Frontier, Allegiant (Nasdaq: ALGT), Spirit (Nasdaq: SAVE) and Southwest (NYSE: LUV) all added routes from Jacksonville International Airport in 2018.
New destinations include Dallas, Las Vegas, Denver and more, but the aviation authority has its sights set on new routes to the West Coast, Caribbean and even across the Atlantic. JAA Marketing Program Manager Greg Willis and JAA Marketing Director Barbara Halverstadt discussed JIA's growing destinations with the Business Journal.
How was JIA able to add so many routes this year?
Willis: Some of it was years of airline meetings coming to fruition. We've been talking with Spirit for four or five years, trying to get [Spirit] to come here with some routes. We fit into the fleet strategy of the airlines, so we benefited from that airline growth.
Halverstadt: With Allegiant, it took about four years with them... That opened up a door I think with Frontier, once they saw Allegiant's success. Now it's Spirit starting.
How optimistic are you about adding routes next year?
Halverstadt: Spirit already announced two starting in February — Baltimore and Ft. Lauderdale. Southwest is going to make its Dallas Love Field — which currently is only a weekend route — in January, it will be a daily route. So we're already starting to see [new routes] trickle in.
What destinations are top of your wish list to add from JIA?
Halverstadt: West Coast of course, that's a really important one for us. We're talking to any carrier that will listen. Our research shows that the Los Angeles basin is the top unserved market from Jacksonville on a nonstop basis, and we are tied for second as their most unserved market, behind LaGuardia which is of course gate-constrained... We're trying to get someone to jump on that one. It's tough.
Willis: We know what the total market size looks like. What we don't know necessarily are what businesses in Northeast Florida either fly multiple times to Los Angeles during the year or drive to Orlando and fly... If we know that there are companies taking 200 trips a year to LA, that's helpful for us when we're pitching to the airlines. What we're trying to pin down is who are the corporations that need that service.
Halverstadt: And it's not just Los Angeles. San Francisco is the second largest, San Diego is not far behind that. Phoenix is also very close. Those are all markets that we're trying to get service.
In terms of international, that's a little tougher. Of course San Juan has been where we've had the most volume in the past, but trans-Atlantic, that's a really tough one. I know there's a lot of connections with London, of course, and Frankfurt. It's a tough market when we don't really have a high number of daily or weekly passengers going to either of those, and those are the top two from Jacksonville. As the new aircraft come online, the [Boeing 787] Dreamliner and some of those, that could change that picture a little bit, but right now, we're a little bit out of range for a narrow body plane.
Have the added routes and this year's record passenger count accelerated plans to add infrastructure like parking?
Willis: We're taking a long, hard look at everything. It's a discussion that's being had internally. The first step is a master plan update and we're going through that process currently.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.