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Southwest Florida International Airport sweetens incentives to get West Coast routes
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Southwest Florida International Airport sweetens incentives to get West Coast routes

Nonstop commercial flights between Fort Myers and the western United States used to be Mission Impossible.

No more.

Last month, Frontier Airlines announced new seasonal service from Southwest Florida International Airport to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

That begins in mid-November. And, it could be just the start of a new westward expansion.

Southwest Florida wants more West Coast flights. On Thursday, Lee County commissioners acting as the port authority board OK’d extending the airport’s Air Service Incentive Plan to 2021 – and strengthening marketing incentive support for new air service to any of 10 select states west of the Rocky Mountains.

Not only could those dollars help Frontier grow demand for its new routes: They could give the local airport a competitive edge when going after additional service, not just to cities west of the Rockies, but all the way to the continental U.S. West Coast.

It’s conceivable that Southwest Florida International could score its first nonstop service to California in the next three years, said Mike Boyd, president of Boyd Group International Aviation Forecasting and Consulting.

Boyd’s best guesses? Southwest Airlines service to somewhere in “the LA basin” or United Airlines to San Francisco.

“Just remember, RSW-West Coast nonstops entail a lot of airplane time, which means the traffic revenues need to be very high,” Boyd said.

Today, incentives are usually a necessary “show of respect for the airline,” Boyd said.

But airlines decide to enter a market, “pretty much unilaterally on their own. They are not being lured by airport activities or consultant voodoo,” Boyd said.

“Incentives are just icing” on the cake, according to Boyd.

Jeff Mulder, executive director for Lee County Port Authority, concurs – but noted icing can make a difference.

An airline might see similar revenue potential at two or more airports. But if one airport is providing marketing dollars to help grow demand for that new route, that could tip the scales in its favor.

“As a community, we compete with other communities for … jobs, for companies, for visitors,” Mulder said, adding:

Air service incentives “are just one of the tools we use to compete with other communities and with other airports”.

In the amended incentive plan, the airport’s marketing incentives for year-round service to a city in the U.S. West soars from a maximum of $75,000 to $200,000 in Year One – and from $50,000 to $100,000 in Year Two…

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