Saturday, February 10, 2018

ViaAir to start daily Little Rock-Austin flights



Air travelers will have a direct flight between the Arkansas capital and the Texas capital beginning later this spring.

Via Airlines, a Florida-based low-cost airline, will inaugurate the daily nonstop flights between Little Rock and Austin starting on April 29, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, announced Friday.

While Austin is known for its live-music scene, including the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival every March, the city also has a burgeoning tech community that one Via executive said played a role in deciding to start service between the two cities.

Stacy Hurst, the chairman of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, said in the announcement: "We're excited that Via Airlines will provide nonstop service to Austin, which will be a new destination for Little Rock. Via Airlines' low fares and convenient schedule will make it easy to get away to the live music capital."

It didn't hurt the cause that Matthew Macri, operations vice president for the airline, lived in Little Rock for five years when he was chief pilot for an aviation company.

"I got to know the community really well," he said. "I watched the downtown area transformed. I watched the technology aspects of Little Rock grow. It's something that's been on our radar, which I have personal knowledge of."

The airline is hoping the daily service on a 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145, which is a twin-engine regional jet, will attract travelers wanting to go to Little Rock, not just to Austin, Macri said.

"And as we expand the Austin market, we are looking for communities that have synergy for two-way traffic, not just bringing people into Austin for live music and the activities Austin has to offer, but places where the folks from Texas are interested in traveling to explore, leisure activities and business as well," he said.

The daily service also is evidence that Via wants to attract business travelers.

"A low-cost carrier which focuses on leisure won't do daily service," Macri said. "We looked at providing as close as we could to daily service in Little Rock so we could provide for both the leisure traveler as well as the business community.

"We did omit Saturday flights. Travel patterns that we looked at for both leisure and business, Saturday is a low day in the week and will give us an opportunity to use our resources wisely."

Friday's announcement marked the third new service announcement in 2018 at the the state's largest airport.

Frontier Airlines will begin offering nonstop service to Denver on March 1, and American Airlines will begin nonstop service to Washington, D.C., on April 3.

Via also represents what is considered the fourth budget airline to establish service at Clinton National. It joins Southwest Airlines, Allegiant Air and Frontier. Legacy airlines at the airport include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

"And that's actually pretty decent for an airport our size," said Ron Mathieu, Clinton National's executive director. "It shows we have a pretty good economy in the state, it shows that we're growing. ... We're proud of what we have and we are very grateful to Via Airlines for wanting to invest their resources in our great community."

Discussions between Via and Clinton National began about three years ago, which Mathieu said underscores the planning that goes into making decisions to begin an airline flight.

"They're going to make a significant investment in our community so therefore they have to very cautious about how they make that investment and make sure that everything they're doing will lead to a successful venture," he said. "These things are not easy to do. They are not quick decisions."

Via likely isn't an airline with which many Arkansans are acquainted, but Macri said the carrier has a track record.

GLO Airlines was a startup that began regular service between Little Rock and New Orleans and seasonal service to the Florida Gulf Coast with high hopes but suspended service last summer and filed for bankruptcy a short time later.

"Our DNA goes back to '97," Macri said. "We've been providing scheduled service to U.S. communities as well as air cruise products and service throughout the state of Florida.

"Expansion throughout the south central [United States] is something that's been a work in progress. It's not that we're starting out with no experience. It's we're building off our expertise."

The airline's management team are veterans in the industry with a focus on "growing small airlines into medium airlines, which is what we are in the process of doing right now," he said.

The airline also recently announced service between Austin and Tulsa and Austin and Oklahoma City.

Introductory fares, which can be purchased at flyviaair.com, are being offered for $99 one way.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.arkansasonline.com

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