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Published: Saturday, 9/6/2008

New airline at Toledo Express plans flights to Florida

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A South Carolina charter airline will begin twice-weekly service between Toledo Express Airport and southwest Florida in November, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority announced yesterday.

Direct Air flies between six northern cities and Myrtle Beach, S.C. It will establish a second cluster of routes serving Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, Fla., that will include flights to and from Toledo, port officials said during an afternoon news conference.

The announcement was made just days after Delta Connection and Continental Connection air service at Toledo Express ended, leaving just three airlines operating at the local airport.

Direct Air is scheduled to begin its Toledo flights Nov. 24, flying the route on Mondays and Fridays.

This is a very good carrier, with a very nice aircraft and very reasonable prices, said Eric Frankl, the port authority s director of airports.

The flights will use 150-seat Airbus A320 aircraft with first-class and coach seating.

Direct Air has built a strong niche service in developing secondary airports, Judy Tull, chief executive officer of Direct Air, said in a port authority-issued statement.

We re confident that we can we can provide excellent service via Toledo Express Airport with our nonstop flights, low fares, and convenient departure times.

Until 9 p.m. Monday, Direct Air will offer a promotional $79 one-way fare for the route, not including airport, booking, baggage, and government fees. Travel may be booked through the airline s Web site, www.visitdirectair.com, or with a travel agent.

Mr. Frankl likened Direct Air to Allegiant Air, which flies between Toledo and both Sanford and St. Petersburg, Fla., several times a week.

Like Allegiant, Direct Air brands and markets its service, but the flights are actually operated by a different company in this case, Virgin America.

The Direct Air and Allegiant Air business model includes selling complete travel packages, but flight-only tickets are available.

It does not include service to a full network of cities across the country, as did Delta and Continental.

Those two airlines pulled out of Toledo this week as part of broader service cutbacks in response to soaring fuel costs.

This is not your traditional network carrier, and we need those in Toledo as well, Mr. Frankl said of Direct Air.

But Direct Air was an airline the port authority sought out for Toledo, he said, and its decision to start the route represents a reversal of the recent, precipitous decline in service at Toledo Express.

Efforts to woo other airlines to Toledo continue, the airport director said.

To induce Direct Air to offer new service, the port authority will waive rent for a year and provide cooperative advertising incentives it has provided to other new carriers in the past.

Mr. Frankl said he believes the Toledo market is big enough to sustain both Allegiant Air and Direct Air, which will compete for the Florida vacation market.

Direct Air currently flies between Myrtle Beach and Columbus, Pittsburgh, Newark, Plattsburgh, N.Y., Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pa., and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

According to the port authority, the airline will add service to Allentown, Pa.; Worcester, Mass., and Sanford when it starts the Toledo-Punta Gorda route.

Direct Air did not respond to request for further information.

Punta Gorda about halfway between Fort Myers and Sarasota, Fla. has no commercial air service.

It was served by Skybus Airlines for about four months before that carrier ceased operations in April.

Punta Gorda is a very good location for lots of reasons, Mr. Frankl said. Fort Myers is one of our best markets.

Direct Air may not fly to Toledo year-round: Mr. Frankl described the route as potentially seasonal, with no flights during the spring and fall slow seasons for Toledo-Florida travel.

But if the new route is successful, he said, it could lead to service between Toledo and Myrtle Beach as well.

Contact David Patch at:dpatch@theblade.comor 419-724-6094.



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