US Airways swapping turboprops for jets
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 12:29 a.m.
Beginning March 7, US Airways will fly regional jets into Gainesville, instead of turboprop planes.
Gainesville Regional Airport officials also said on Monday they're scheduling a "fish or cut bait" meeting with Continental Airlines sometime in the next two weeks to try to nail down a commitment for twice-daily nonstop air service to Newark, N.J.
US Airways' decision to upgrade its service in Gainesville is in part "a competitive response" to ongoing negotiations with Continental, Airport Authority member Pat Bainter said.
"They are saying: 'This is our market - we're here to stay.' "
"This may say to Continental, 'We've got to fish or cut bait,' " Bainter said. "It's upped the ante a little bit."
For the past three years, area businesspeople and airport officials have embarked on a coordinated effort to expand air service in Gainesville, with the expectation that will lower prices. In the past year and a half, airport officials have been asking US Airways to bring the larger, faster jets into Gainesville, Bainter said.
On Monday, the company announced plans to fly 50-seat Canadair Regional Jets into both Gainesville and Tallahassee. They replace 37-seat Dash 8 turboprops.
"The new regional jet service will bring not only increased daily capacity to both these communities, but also improved levels of comfort and shorter flight times," US Airways vice president of planning and scheduling Daniel M. McDonald wrote in a news release.
Because the jets can fly higher than turboprop planes - above 35,000 feet versus 20,000 feet - it's easier for them to fly over bad weather and avoid turbulence.
"Let's face it, there are people who don't like to fly on props," said Jon Morris, chairman of the Airport Authority. "This change gives people one more reason to fly out of Gainesville rather than drive to Jacksonville or Orlando."
The change will make it possible to leave Gainesville at 6:15 a.m. and take a connecting flight into New York City by 10:08 a.m. Presently, the earliest US Airways flight leaves at 6 a.m., with the New York connection landing at 11:32 a.m.
Time in the air to Charlotte had been about one hour and 45 minutes; the new planes will cut that to about one hour and 15 minutes.
The US Airways Express flights will leave Gainesville at 6:15 a.m., 2:10 p.m. and 5:55 p.m. Planes will arrive at 12:46 p.m., 5:24 p.m. and 9:28 p.m.
Delta, Gainesville's other airline, flies a mix of regional jets and turboprop planes. Two of Delta's daily round-trip flights to Atlanta are on regional jets, and the other five are on turboprops.
In January 2003, Gainesville business leaders raised $650,000 in a ticket trust to prove to Continental that there is enough local demand for twice-daily service to Newark. Then, in September, the federal government sweetened the pot with $660,000 more in incentives to attract air service to Gainesville.
But there is a March 31 deadline attached to the federal money, requiring local officials to identify a carrier for the incentives.
If Continental walks away from the negotiations - and the $1.3 million in private and government incentives on the table - Bainter said Gainesville should have no trouble using it to attract expanded service from a different carrier.
Among the routes in active discussion, he said, are Delta to Dallas; American Airlines to Dallas and/or Miami; and Northwest Airlines to Memphis.
Continental's managing director of strategic planning, Karen Zachary, continued to play the airline's cards close to the vest on Monday.
"We have been in talks with Gainesville - and we are aware they need to sign up someone to use that money by March 31," Zachary said, "but I can't disclose where we sit as to whether that would be a good add for Continental at this point."
Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 or Carrie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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