Landing direct flights to D.C., Chicago remains BTR’s top priorities

    Baton Rouge Metro Airport officials are heading to Nashville in less than two weeks for the 2019 JumpStart Air Service Development Conference with the familiar goal of securing nonstop services to Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

    “Those hubs give us nonstop service to major markets with high demand,” says BTR spokesman Jim Caldwell.

    The conference—taking place June 3-5—allows airports to have up to 10, 20-minute one-on-one meetings with airlines, along with more networking opportunities, a structure Caldwell likens to “speed dating.” Twenty-eight airlines are attending this year, including low-cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit, international airlines like Copa Airlines and Air Canada, and more established carriers such as American Airlines and Southwest.

    For years, BTR has been trying to secure regular services to destination airports in D.C. and Chicago as part of a broader effort to increase passenger count by focusing on where its business travelers go, as detailed by Business Report in a 2016 cover package. But the airport has historically struggled with being a smaller market than New Orleans, which is typically first to land more flights.

    Caldwell says the airport has been eyeing American Airlines and United as potential carriers for the services, which, as envisioned, would go to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and either Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or Washington Dulles International Airport in D.C.

    “We’re going to meet with target airlines, make our case for why a new service on those routes could be profitable, and get their feedback,” says Caldwell, noting they’re meeting with American Airlines at the conference and will also meet afterward with United, which is not attending.

    Among feedback Caldwell expects to receive is related to the airport’s standard incentive package, which waives landing fees and carrier-specific rents and helps with advertising. Oftentimes, he says, airlines want a revenue guarantee, wherein the airport promises to make up any revenue shortfall the airline incurs in its first year of business there, up to a certain amount.

    There are still potential roadblocks. For example, while a Reagan National connection could be profitable, it’s a slot-controlled airport, meaning American would have to pull the service from another airport before giving it to BTR.

    Not wanting to “pigeonhole” itself, Caldwell says BTR will also meet with other carriers while there, such as Delta and Allegiant, which could be a carrier for a nonstop Orlando service.

    View Comments