You would think the nation has a limited supply of really underserved airport markets, but Allegiant Air has demonstrated that the states have plenty of Grand Forks and Billings. Now comes Air Azul, a tiny turboprop operator, and its very big plans to mimic Allegiant – up to a point.
It has arranged with Sun Country Airlines, the Minneapolis-based carrier that’s trying to get out of bankruptcy, to operate public charter flights between big cities on the East Coast and a scattering of service-hungry cities in the Midwest. The carrier, which will use a Sun Country Boeing 737-800, “sees the how the Allegiant model worked. We’re slightly different because we’re linking underserved markets like Toledo or South Bend, Indiana, with major metropolitan areas, rather than with leisure resorts, but we’re clearly inspired by the success that Allegiant has had,” says Brian Burling, the vice president of Air Azul. The company announced this week that it will serve South Bend linking it with Newark Liberty, near New York, three days a week. It also announced service between Toledo, Ohio and Rockford, Ill., and Newark, three days a week, and plans thrice weekly service between Newark, and Lansing, Michigan.
Flights start in early June. Azul will also offer public charters between Baltimore/Washington and both Lansing and Rockford.Burling says that these communities have all been hurt badly by the service
cutbacks of 2008, but offer a blend of business and leisure flyers. South Bend in particular is a good example he says, noting that the Indiana city is home to Notre Dame University and has many loyal graduates in the New York area who will fly to the campus (at right) for sports games. “They love their football team,” he says. Traffic at the South Bend airport is down by 20% so far in 2009. In Toledo, hard-hit by cutbacks by major carriers, regaining air service to the New York area has been a goal for many years, says the airport’s interim director, Paul Toth.
Burling insists though that Air Azul does not want to compete with Allegiant, and in fact, the Las Vegas-based Allegiant shifted its central Michigan base from Lansing to Grand Rapids last year. It also serves Rockford, but only to warm-weather destinations.
Burling is a veteran of the direct-charter business, while the firm is headed by Trevor Sadler, who worked for CityBird in Belgium and for USA 3000, the Philadelphia-area scheduled charter carrier