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Incoming Flight

A daily commuter flight makes its final approach to the main runway at Flagstaff Airport Wednesday morning.

With the help of a Department of Transportation grant, the Flagstaff Airport will see two daily flights by United Airlines to and from Denver beginning on March 30.

Heidi Hansen, economic vitality director for the city, also told Flagstaff City Council at the Feb. 26 meeting that on April 1 of this year, American Airlines plans to upgrade its route to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to run twice a day, seven days a week.

American has made the trip from Flagstaff to Dallas in the past. The airline provided that route once a week on Saturdays from May to September, 2018. 

“This is a very exciting time for our airport and we are going to be making great strides in bringing quality transportation,” Hansen said.

The new route to Denver by United also represents the first time the Flagstaff Airport will have two airlines since 2010, when Horizon Air ended operations out of Flagstaff, said City Airport Director Barney Helmick.

And the route opens Flagstaff to one more market, Helmick said, as they work to expand the airport’s reach.

Hansen said city staff hope the addition of a second carrier will also lower prices for trips to and from the Flagstaff Airport.

“We're excited that United is actually going to bring American Airlines some friendly competition,” Hansen said.

The introduction of the daily route to Denver was helped by a $800,000 Small Community Air Service Development Grant from the federal Department of Transportation that the city received in 2011, Helmick said. The grant they received, which is devoted to help expand service at small airports, allowed the city to sign a minimum revenue agreement with United.

Helmick said these agreements make it less risky for airlines to begin a new route as they are ensured a certain amount of revenue on a route that is still untested.

United projects how much revenue they expect to make each month on the new route and communicate that to the city. Then, the company sees how much revenue they actually make off the route during that month, and if they don’t make the amount they projected, the grant money would make up the difference.

If they make more money than expected, the extra will roll over and count toward the next month. Should there be money from the grant left over, it will be returned to the Department of Transportation.

Helmick said this is especially helpful because for an airline, starting up a new route and moving to a new airport can come with a lot of startup costs.

For example, on top of leasing space from the city at the airport, United has already had staff in Flagstaff being trained despite flights not starting for another month.

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The city is also trying to attract additional daily routes or new airlines with a policy offering a base number of incentives to airlines when starting new routes at the Flagstaff Airport.

Primarily, Hemlick said, this is coming in the way of eliminating landing fees for the first year for a new daily route. He said he hopes that such incentives will help the airport expand, adding that within the next three years, he would not be surprised if they are able to add daily flights to both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The city began two campaigns to attract more residents to use the Flagstaff Airport after a study found that of those who live in and around Flagstaff and fly to travel, 80 percent fly in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor as opposed to Flagstaff.

The first campaign, called “Always fly Flagstaff first,” was able to increase the number of people traveling in and out of the airport by 3 percent its first year, and a subsequent campaign increased those using the airport by almost 10 percent, Hansen said.

“We really feel like there’s no excuse for [people to fly out of Phoenix] because there’s going to be four flights, maybe five to Phoenix, and then there’s going to be two flights a day to Denver and two flights to Dallas,” Hansen said.

Updated for a correction at 10:31 a.m. on Feb. 28.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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