With Southwest Airlines announcing Thursday that its flights out of Fresno-Yosemite International Airport will start up on April 25, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer sees the addition as one that will benefit all sectors of the Central Valley.
“Southwest Airlines opens a wide door to an entire set of traveling options for both business and leisure, and this is just the beginning with today’s launch,” Dyer said in a press conference. “I have no doubt that it will also attract more travelers from the Valley to our airport who might otherwise choose to drive to San Jose or San Francisco, or another airport to fly out of.”
However, at the center of Dyer’s excitement is the possibilities that these initial routes – three daily flights to Las Vegas and one to Denver – will signal to the corporate world that Fresno is open for business.
“Really the presence of Southwest Airlines here in Fresno will provide, I believe, future traveling convenience and options to the corporate world who have historically maybe shied away from investing in Fresno due to limited flight availability in and out of our city,” Dyer said. “I know that to be true from speaking with certain corporate executives over the years.”
Dyer said he has been on a recruiting mission over the last few months trying to bring new businesses to the area. Many of the executives that he talked to were aware of Fresno’s limited options to travel to the East Coast, which had previously been a roadblock for many companies.
While Las Vegas and Denver are obviously not cross-country destinations, Dyer believes that Southwest’s direct flights from those two cities to all major metropolitan areas in the nation will change Fresno’s business landscape.
“This does open up a door for increased interest in Fresno from [an] economic development standpoint, and the fact is we’re in the heart of California,” Dyer said. “We’re in the heart of 40 million people in California. We have available land, we do not have traffic congestion and now we have Southwest Airlines. We have an available workforce. We are poised to take off in terms of economic development right here in our region.”
Even though passengers can use Las Vegas and Denver as connecting hubs to other cities, Dyer and Kevin Meikle, the Director of Aviation at the airport, expect Southwest to add additional direct flights out of Fresno once operations begin to ramp up.
Dyer said routes to New York, Chicago and Hawaii were discussed when city officials met with Southwest in November as part of the process to bring the airline to Fresno.
“We don’t know what’s on their plate, but we do know that we fully expect that their presence here will grow,” Meikle said. “Their opportunities, their destinations and so forth will grow out of our market. We have unmet demand here in the Valley…
“Southwest, to their credit, is taking this step. We fully expect them to continue to grow the market. Whether that’s in another month or two, or six months or ongoing, we don’t know, but we do know that that’s going to happen.”
Regardless of the possibility of any future route additions, Dyer is fully confident that Southwest is here to stay. There is no concern that the airline will pack up and leave after testing the waters.
“I asked the question, ‘Are we simply going to the dance together, or are we going to get married?’ And they’re response immediately was, ‘We’re getting married.’ They’re not going anywhere,” Dyer said. “They’re coming to Fresno to stay, and I welcome them as a partner here in Fresno.”
Airport encouraged with affordable pricing, competition
With flights starting at $39 to Las Vegas and $69 to Denver one-way, Southwest will deliver passengers some of the most affordable options on the market.
However, that begs the question: Will Southwest’s presence push other airlines out of Fresno?
Meikle said he is not worried that any airlines will leave and is confident that they will respond positively to the new competition.
“Fostering competition is key, and that’s exactly what this does,” Meikle said. “I do think it will be a positive impact on the competition, on the fairs. It remains to be seen how the airlines will react, but I think they’re going to react positively. I think we’re going to see great fares, and who knows, maybe we’ll see some other movement with other airlines that will further enhance the offerings out of our airport.”