Photo | Lagniappe
Via Airlines has stopped flights from Mobile’s Downtown Airport.
One low-cost airline has already pulled out of the city, before its first flight ever lifted off from Mobile Downtown Airport.
Via Airlines will immediately stop flights in and out of Mobile Regional and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International airports, company spokesman Donald Bowman wrote in an email message Thursday morning.
“Regrettably, upon considering the carrier’s ongoing challenges in recruiting, training and retaining a suitable level of qualified crews, Via Airlines’ Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to suspend all flights to/from Mobile, Ala., and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport effective immediately,” Bowman wrote. “All guests with confirmed and paid reservations will receive a full refund.”
In the statement, Bowman thanked the respective authorities for support.
“Via Airlines wishes to thank the Mobile Airport Authority and the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport management team for their support to date, and regrets this painful but necessary decision, which we feel is in the best interest of the communities at this point in time,” he wrote.
The airline has stopped most of its commercial service nationwide, with the exception of its Jackon, Miss., to Orlando Sanford International flight, Bowman confirmed.
Via was the first airline to make an official, successful pitch to fly commercially out of the Brookley Aeroplex. The company had planned to make trips to Orlando out of the downtown terminal, but had been having trouble as of late.
This latest announcement was not a surprise for Mobile Airport Authority President Chris Curry, who said the agency had been transitioning its focus toward ensuring the success of Frontier, which currently serves the Mobile Downtown Airport with five flights per week to Denver and Chicago. He added he believes the moves by Via are an effort for the company to focus more on charter service and away from normal commercial service.
“They are really getting out of the commercial service business,” Curry said. “We came to that conclusion several weeks ago.”
The Via announcement, and its cancellation of four flights per week to Orlando, shouldn’t have a huge impact on operations at the new airport, Curry said. While Via had planned to fly from Brookley when it opened, the company never made the move from West Mobile. Curry pointed out Frontier has the capacity — through Airbus A320 aircraft — to fly close to 1,000 travelers out of Brookley with its five flights per week. At most, Via would’ve been able to carry 200 total per week through smaller, 50-seat Embraer jets.
As for Frontier Airlines, the only airline with flights in and out of Brookley, Curry said the discount carrier is still popular for Mobile-area travelers as outbound planes have been about 80 percent full in recent weeks. In other words, the outbound flights have about 150 to 160 passengers each. Those numbers line up with the expectations the authority and the airline had, Curry said.
“It’s good, but we could still do better,” he said.
The Airport Authority has partnered with Visit Mobile to market the Port City to potential travelers in Chicago and Denver to drum up support for inbound flights, Curry said. Those efforts along with warmer summer temperatures expect to pay dividends, he said.
In addition to focusing on Frontier and encouraging its expansion, Curry said the authority is still recruiting for flights to the Washington, D.C., area. The nation’s capital was the top destination of interest for local air travelers, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the authority before the downtown airport was built.
There is strong interest in the route from the business community, especially high-volume employers like Airbus and Austal as well as the University of South Alabama, Curry said. In fact, he will be carrying letters from the companies and the college encouraging a route to meetings with airline executives next month, Curry said.
Specifically, Curry said, the authority has been working with both United and American airlines on a possible flight from Mobile to either Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or Dulles International Airport.
“We will continue to use our resources to show the importance of a D.C. flight,” Curry said.
A D.C. flight would initially originate from Mobile Regional because of the business interest, Curry said.
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