Spirit to launch 11 domestic routes with new small city focus

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Spirit Airlines has unveiled plans to launch 11 new non-stop routes and add three small communities to its network.

The low-cost carrier announced today it will begin serving three airports that currently have limited or no air service - Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls in upstate New York and Latrobe in western Pennsylvania. Service will also be launched to larger Charleston in West Virginia and much larger Dallas.

Spirit over the years has operated some niche services to small US airports such as Atlantic City in New Jersey, where it currently operates several routes. But entering small US markets that have no commercial air service or are only served with small regional aircraft has been more the forte of US low-cost carrier Allegiant Air as Spirit in recent years has been focusing more at expanding its international network.

Plattsburgh, which is an alternative gateway to Montreal, will be served from 14 January with four weekly non-stop flights from Spirit's Fort Lauderdale hub. Four weekly flights from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina will be added from 5 May.

Plattsburgh is currently only served by Allegiant and regional carrier Colgan Air, according to Innovata. Allegiant already links Plattsburgh with Fort Lauderdale three times per week and also serves Plattsburgh from two of its other Florida focus cities - St Petersburg and Orlando Sanford. Colgan links Plattsburgh with Boston on behalf of US Airways Express.

Spirit will begin serving Niagara Falls on 27 January with three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale and will add three weekly flights from Myrtle Beach on 5 May.

Niagara Falls, located between the much larger cities of Buffalo and Toronto, is only currently served by Direct Air. According to Direct Air's website, Niagara Falls is already linked with Myrtle Beach three times per week. Next month Direct Air will also begin winter seasonal service from Niagara Falls to Melbourne, Punta Gorda and West Palm Beach in Florida.

Latrobe, an alternative gateway for Pittsburgh, currently has no scheduled flights although was previously served by regional carrier Mesaba Airlines. Spirit will launch service to Latrobe on 12 February with four weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale and will add four weekly flights from Myrtle Beach on 5 May.

Charleston service will begin on 3 March with three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale. On 5 May three weekly flights from Myrtle Beach will be added.

Charleston, West Virginia's largest city and capital, is already linked to several hubs by regional carriers operating on behalf of Continental, Delta, United and US Airways Express. However, there is currently no non-stop service to Fort Lauderdale or Myrtle Beach.

Dallas will be served by Spirit only from Fort Lauderdale with two daily non-stop flights from 5 May. Spirit says both flights will continue onto Las Vegas.

Spirit will compete on both the Fort Lauderdale-Dallas and Dallas-Las Vegas legs against American, which operates five daily flights from its Dallas hub to Fort Lauderdale and 11 daily flights from Dallas to Las Vegas. US Airways also operates three daily flights between Dallas and Las Vegas.

Spirit's 11th new route unveiled today connects Washington National, which it already serves from Fort Lauderdale, with Myrtle Beach. The Washington-Myrtle Beach route will be launched on 5 May with one daily flight. US Airways Express currently serves this route with five weekly flights, according to Innovata.

Spirit says the Myrtle Beach expansion will give the carrier 12 destinations from the South Carolina resort. Spirit, which began serving Myrtle Beach in 1996, currently offers 11 daily flights to seven destinations.

A Spirit spokeswoman declined to provide details on possible grants, subsidies or revenue guarantees the carrier may be receiving from launching the new routes. But she says "every new route has the support of local communities".