Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Airline offers nonstops between Lee County, Mexico

Link to budget and supporting documents

By early December, we’ll be able to fly nonstop from Fort Myers to Cancun – the town on the Yucatan Peninsula known for its nightlife, white sand beaches and its role as a gateway into the renowned Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

The new flights will be Southwest Florida International’s first scheduled service to Mexico. Local business leaders long have craved direct air connections to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Tickets already are on sale at MetJet.net. Because the service is once a week, it’s arguably a case of “testing the waters.”

The unanswered question is: If these new MetJet flights are successful, will service to other south-of-the-border destinations eventually follow?

“Don’t know,” said Bob Ball, Lee County airports chief executive. “We’ve first got to sell the Cancun service. The flights are going to have to be supported by local people.”

Ball’s remarks followed Monday’s meeting at Southwest Florida International between Lee County commissioners sitting as the port authority board and the Airports Special Management Committee.

The weekly service between Fort Myers and Cancun will be on Saturdays, beginning Dec. 7. Public charter operator MetJet is leasing aircraft with about 150 seats and their crew from Sun Country.

MetJet began nonstop service between Fort Myers and its hometown of Green Bay, Wis., last October.

In addition to the upcoming Mexico service, Ball shared other good news at the meeting, including:

• An agreement with Silver Airways (gosilver.com) to provide daily nonstop service between Fort Myers and Orlando, starting July 2 and using 30-seat Saab 340 aircraft. Southwest Florida had lost nonstop service to that city last fall, when Southwest Airlines dropped the route.

• Airberlin’s plan to increase service to Fort Myers with the addition of a fourth weekly round-trip flight to Dusseldorf, Germany. Flights will be operated on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 1 to April 30.

• A total of 576,713 passengers used Southwest Florida International Airport in May, an increase of 8.4 percent compared to May 2012. Year-to-date as of May, passenger traffic was up 6.7 percent from the same period last year.

Commissioners at Monday’s airport meeting also gave their first OK to a $288.2 million budget for county airports for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. They won’t render their final verdict on the budget until after public hearings in September.

Tamara Pigott, executive director for Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, is happy about the new international and domestic flights announced Monday.

“We know that additional air service will benefit the local tourism industry,” Pigott said, referring to the economic engine of tourism and hospitality that generates about $2.6 billion yearly for the region’s economy and employs one in five people in Lee County alone.

Pigott seemed unperturbed that the route links two well-known and possibly rival beach-tourist spots. “We get lots of visitors from beach destinations,” Pigott said, noting that people from Miami and the Palm Beach area often cross the state for getaways along Southwest Florida’s coast.

As for additional service to Germany, “it’s our No. 1 international market,” Pigott noted, adding that the return of service to Orlando is “exciting. With all of those international flights coming into Orlando, (the new Silver Airways service) gives visitors easy access to our area.”



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