July 23, 2008

US Airways Expands Keys Service

By Alyson Crean, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Jul. 23--Starting in October, it'll be easier to get out of the Keys when US Airways starts flying nonstop from Key West to Charlotte, N.C.

"They tried this on an experimental basis and found it very successful," says Peter Horton, manager of Monroe County's airports.

The County Commission has approved waiving landing fees at Key West International Airport for the first year of service. It's an incentive that Horton said is standard practice to help new airline service get off the ground.

"In the meantime, we will be getting revenues for rent, for utilities, security fees, car rental revenues. On top of that, the [Federal Aviation Administration] pays us $12.50 for each passenger. That could net some $250,000 even with light plane loads," he said.

Horton said he expects the two round trips daily to be at least as popular as those provided by Delta Airlines into Atlanta. For years, most carriers led to connections in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

"Now if you could just get them to fly into Marathon," County Commissioner George Neugent said.

Horton said he'd love to see the US Airways connection from Charlotte stopping at Florida Keys Marathon Airport, but he's not sure it's a good time for that kind of expansion.

"In this market, where airlines are cutting back capacity by 15 percent nationwide, and industry analysts say this could just be the beginning, it's just not likely," he said. "It's a contracting market, but that's why we're so excited about the new Key West service."

Still, he said he expects to have some good news for Marathon, jilted time and again by carriers that promise service and then don't deliver, at the Aug. 20 County Commission meeting: Cape Air agreeing to fly between Marathon and Fort Myers three times a day.

"We're drafting a contract with Cape Air, flying as the Continental Connection," Horton said. "Service would start Dec. 19 and run until mid-April."

He added, "Cape Air will only commit for the season at this point. They want to see what happens."

Last year, Delta signed a contract with the county for a year of service, flying between Marathon and Atlanta. But six months into the arrangement, Delta pulled out.


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