Saturday, May 03, 2014

Frontier Airlines begins much-anticipated St. Augustine service, 3 flights per week to New Jersey

Showered first by Mother Nature and then slipping underneath a ceremonial water arch created by the blasts from county fire trucks, the first jet from Frontier Airlines arrived Friday in St. Augustine.

The plane, an Airbus A319 with about 120 people from the Trenton/Princeton, N.J., airport, marked the return of commercial airline service to the Northeast Florida Regional Airport since Skybus pulled out in April 2008.

Frontier is offering three flights per week between St. Augustine and Trenton.

That number could rise if the demand shows St. Augustine can support the service.

“I think it’s possible,” Frontier spokeswoman Kate O’Malley said of adding destinations. “The more people who try us out the more likely we are [to add].

“We definitely have been growing, and we have been finding those markets like Trenton and St. Augustine where residents are screaming for low-cost service.”

Several area politicians and tourism officials hailed the return of airline service as a new driver of economic development for St. Johns County.

The St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau estimates that the flights will bring an extra 20,000 visitors per year to the county.

“It’s a great boost for our local community,” said airport authority board member Kelly Barrera.

“We are just thrilled to have Frontier come. They’re a great match for our community, for our airport and for our county.”

Airport authority Executive Director Ed Wuellner said the arrival of Frontier added about a dozen jobs to the airport with the potential for more.

He said a few more flights would be welcome in St. Augustine, but he was just happy to get the current service started.

He was also glad to see a smooth landing of the first flight since his wife, Kim, was on board.

“I see them adding destinations over time,” Wuellner said. “We’re the right-sized airport for what they’re trying to do.”

Frontier has been around for two decades, but it has been mostly focused on the West until recent years.

Service was just brought to Trenton in 2012, when it started flying to Orlando. By June, it will operate flights to 17 cities as Trenton’s only commercial airline.

O’Malley said Frontier has been pleased with how customers have embraced St. Augustine so far.

She added that people interested in going to Jacksonville and Daytona Beach are also using the St. Augustine airport.

“The customers have been very receptive to the destination,” she said. “For those coming here, there’s a lot to get to.”

As for the first day of service, Wuellner said there were no mishaps or major surprises.

In fact, the stress was reserved for earlier in the week while the airport waited to become “refederalized:” It had to have its federally mandated security system set up and approved.

Final approval didn’t come until Tuesday night, and the screening equipment arrived Wednesday morning from Tampa.

Wuellner said he was a little afraid St. Augustine’s first Frontier passengers, including Mayor Joe Boles, weren’t going to be able to fly out.

“We were about ready to bus everybody to Orlando for opening day,” he said.