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story.lead_photo.caption Passengers walk down the concourse Tuesday past a wall built in front of a gate area that’s set to be renovated at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

Seasonal airline service is becoming as much of a reality for travelers as airport security lines.

As ultra-low-cost carriers search for niches not served by the four major airlines, the likelihood of temporary service increases for small and midsize airports, Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission members were told Tuesday.

The commission gathered for a fourth year to hear from industry representatives on the work it takes to add and maintain service from airlines.

Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field will lose direct service to Destin, Fla., through GLO Airlines and and Los Angeles through Allegiant Air until spring and summer of 2017. Neither move is unusual, airport Executive Director Ron Mathieu said after the meeting with commissioners.

"We're hopeful that by offering a route for several seasons, it will develop into a year-round flight," Mathieu said. "We want to do everything we can to try to encourage growth by better understanding our market and where people really want to fly. At the end of the day we are here to serve this market from an economic development and transportation standpoint."

Industrywide consolidation has given the four major carriers -- American, Delta, United and Southwest -- about 83 percent of the market. Smaller airlines like Allegiant and GLO are growing by identifying gaps in service.

Allegiant Air executives Daniel Meier and Lee Warren explained the airline's business model and route-selection philosophy to a group that included airport commission members and Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism Director Joe David Rice.

Allegiant serves 119 cities with 83 aircraft and flies 362 different routes. It began in 2001 with one airplane flying two routes.

Allegiant's growth plan calls for adding service at small and midsize airports to underserved tourist destinations.

"Small and medium cities are the backbone of our network," Meier said, noting that competition is fierce for a city like Little Rock. "It's not just Tulsa, Memphis, Oklahoma City. You're in competition with Boise, Idaho, and Bangor, Maine. You're in competition with everybody."

Committing to a route beyond seasonal service requires evidence that demand exists and the airline can make money by offering it. Allegiant has seen its total passengers decline by 13.25 percent in Little Rock compared with last year. Traffic at Clinton National is up overall by 0.75 percent, primarily on the strength of a 200 percent growth in charter flights.

Allegiant considers a number of factors when adding or expanding service in a market. Warren said Allegiant needs evidence that at least 43 people in the market will travel between two cities each day.

Primarily the airline is concerned with serving leisure travelers. At any given time Allegiant is considering between 100 and 120 new routes, and Warren said it is not unusual for the airline to operate a route from May until September and then expand to October and then November if interest is there.

"Just because a route is seasonal doesn't mean we won't be more year-round in the future," Warren told commissioners.

Incentives offered by airports and a willingness to waive fees are among the information considered by airlines. Joseph Pickering, Mead & Hunt senior consultant, cautioned that incentives shouldn't be offered for a short-term increase in destinations. Waiving fees for airlines only makes sense if passenger demand is there for a particular route.

"We don't want to be chasing something that isn't sustainable," Pickering said, adding, "No amount of incentives will make a weak market strong. You don't want to put money after something that has no chance of sustainability."

Business on 10/19/2016

Print Headline: 2 airlines suspend LR flights until '17

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