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Go West!

Written By: Chris Eversole

Go West (and Midwest) is the recommendation of a consultant advising the Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority.

The best opportunities for expanded service from the Gainesville Regional Airport are for direct flights to Dallas, Houston and Chicago, said Martin Kammerman of Sixel Consulting Group.

“Connecting to Dallas and Houston can provide people a faster way to go if they’re flying to the West,” he said. “Chicago would provide additional options.”

Kammerman studied passenger volume in the airport’s “catchment area” – which includes people who can drive to Gainesville within 60 to 90 minutes. “Although Gainesville can’t capture many of these passengers, additional service will attract some of them,” he said.

He found the daily volume of passengers within the catchment area was as follows: Chicago, 88; Dallas, 54; and Houston, 38.

“We can argue that the airlines will attract enough of these passengers to justify flights,” Kammerman said.

Adding flights to the West and Midwest makes more sense than more flights to the eastern U.S. because the current flights saturate that market, Kammerman said.

Data that Kammerman gathered is helping build the case to American Airlines, United Airlines and other carriers to add flights, said airport CEO Allan Penksa during a presentation held at the Thomas Center on Thursday (May 12).

“We’re stepping up our recruitment efforts with the latest data,” Penksa said.

The research shows that the passenger volume is too low to make a strong case for direct flights to New York City and Washington, DC.

“Both Washington and the New York airports have limited gates,” he said. “Most airports our size don’t have direct flights to them,” he said.

Only about half of the people flying from the Gainesville area use the local airport, the research showed.

The airport needs to continue its efforts to let travelers know that ticket prices for many flights from Gainesville Regional Airport are competitive with prices from Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, Penksa noted.

On the other hand, he cautioned that providing financial incentives such as guaranteed revenue to airlines has limited value. “We need to make a business case that goes beyond incentives,” he said. “Airlines want to have a permanent presence and not leave flyers high and dry when the incentives run out.”

Both the University of Florida and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce helped fund the Sixel Group’s study.

The airport’s direct and indirect economic impact is $300 a million a year, Penksa said. “That’s nothing to sneeze at. We appreciate the community helping us make the extra effort to improve service, which will be good for the economy.”

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