Southwest launches service at new Florida Gulf Coast airport

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A new Florida airport that opened 23 May marks a new chapter in the history of Southwest Airlines, which is offering eight nonstop daily flights to the Gulf Coast resort area.

Northwest Florida Beaches International airport, developed through a public/private partnership, landed Southwest service through a marketing agreement with a private entity, which was a first for the carrier.

"We do make use of marketing funds that airports offer but this is the first time we've developed a partnership with a community group," explains a Southwest spokeswoman.

When Southwest initially considered providing service to the Gulf Coast and Panama City-area the economy was faltering, she says. But an agreement with The St. Joe Company, one of the state's largest development and land ownership companies, offered an opportunity that would minimise risk. The St. Joe Company donated 1,620Ha (4,000 acres) within its 30,375Ha (75,000 acre) West Bay Sector Plan for airport construction.

"Southwest's arrival in Northwest Florida is expected to stimulate job growth, economic development and give travellers more of the options they've been seeking," says St. Joe President Britt Green when the agreement was reached in October 2009. "Southwest will help position Northwest Florida as one of America's leading beach destinations."

The new airport is the first international commercial service airport built in the USA in the last 15 years. It replaces the former Panama City-Bay County International airport.

The eight daily nonstop flights to the airport include two from Nashville, Tennessee; two from Houston, Texas; two from Baltimore, Maryland and two from Orlando, Florida. In addition, the carrier is offering connecting service to 58 destinations, including Dallas, Texas and Chicago, Illinois.

"Serving this region has been on our wish list for some time and it's a proud day for Southwest to finally begin flying to the beautiful Emerald Coast," said Southwest President and CEO Gary Kelly at an airport press conference today.

Delta Air Lines is also providing service to the airport, previously explaining it will transfer current regional service from Panama City to the new airport. Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines operates daily flights from Panama City to Atlanta, while Delta's partner Pinnacle Airlines flies daily to Memphis.

Northwest Florida Beaches International airport is Southwest's seventh destination in Florida. The carrier also serves Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Jacksonville.