Airlines’ earmarking today of two Virginia airports for future service is a surprise
coup for the state, capping a six-year effort to attract the low-fares carrier.
to instill competition in its central and southern regions, Virginia began
courting Southwest in 1995. To further its promotion efforts, the state went as
far as placing a billboard near Southwest’s Dallas headquarters saying:
“Virginia is for LUV”, referring to both the state’s slogan and the airline’s
stock ticker symbol.
state was forced to take it down when Southwest complained consumers were
flooding its reservations line asking about its new service to Virginia.
however, the incident did not hurt Virginia’s chances. With its pledge today to
begin serving Norfolk in October and Richmond at an undetermined later date,
Southwest took the unusual step of giving away its plans for future cities more
than a few months in advance.
not been heard of,” says the air service and policy coordination of Virginia’s
department of aviation, Keith McCrea. “They usually keep their location
decision very tightly wound up until the very last second.
had some good intelligence they were in interested in both, but I was
definitely surprised they essentially announced two at one time.”
decision also surprised those behind the decade-long lobbying efforts for
Richmond International and Norfolk International airports. The two airports
have some of the highest air fares in the country and Southwest’s decision to
eventually serve both will change dramatically the competitive landscape in the
significantly relieves the air fare pressure locally and will open up a lot of
opportunities for new services,” says Norfolk Airport director of market
development Charles Braden.
counterpart in Richmond, Troy Bell, adds: “We’re probably the second happiest
community in the country. We are excited about the service for Virginia and
think it’s a victory for our consumers.”
are questioning why Southwest chose to go first with Norfolk, however. The
airline says it has to wait for a more “appropriate time” to start Richmond
service because the destinations it wants to serve from the city do not have
the infrastructure to support the new service.
Richmond and Norfolk are very similar markets and only 90 miles apart. The only
difference in their demographics is Norfolk-Washington DC is a much stronger
market than Richmond-Washington, which this may explain Southwest’s thinking.
Washington DC, the two airports essentially have similar traffic patterns,
counting New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston in their top five city
pairs. Southwest offers service to all these cities except Atlanta, but some of
their airports are running out of space for expansion.
also points out Norfolk is no stranger to low-fares service, having been served
by People’s Express in the 1980s and Continental Lite in the 1990s. The closest
Norfolk now comes to low fares is at nearby Newport News/Williamsburg
International Airport, which is served by AirTran Airways from Atlanta.
Richmond and Virginia did not offer any incentives to Southwest, but Virginia
is willing to help fund an expansion plan at Richmond, including a seven-gate
to expand is key for Southwest. Braden says Norfolk still has five gates
available beyond the two Southwest is taking and a third concourse is in the
airport’s footprint. Norfolk will also open a new arrivals area next year, doubling
its ticketing area, and has begun studying adding a parallel runway.
study commissioned by Virginia to examine long-term airports needs in the
Richmond-Newport News-Norfolk corridor recommended the construction of a new
airport near Newport News. But none of the three airports support the plan and
are moving forward with their own expansion plans in hopes of attracting more
largest metropolitan area between Washington and Atlanta, Norfolk is served by
eight of the tem major US carriers and North Carolina-based Midway Airlines.