St. Augustine Airport Wins FAA Grant to Provide Air Service to NC
St. Augustine’s Northeast Florida Regional Airport may begin offering daily non-stop flights to Charlotte, North Carolina. starting in December, thanks to a new grant of $ 700,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration.
St. Johns County Airport beat applications submitted by Daytona Beach International Airport and two other Florida airports to become the only one in Sunshine State to receive the Small Air Services Development Grant. community.
“We hope that we can still convince United Airlines to try service to Chicago and Washington, DC from Daytona Beach, as well as American, which has also expressed interest in offering service to Chicago,” said Karen Feaster, Director of Daytona. International airport from the beach.
Northeast Florida Regional Airport grant is to be used for a “revenue guarantee and commercialization of non-stop service to Charlotte, NC on American Airlines,” according to the announcement posted on the FAA website.
If American launches the St. Augustine-Charlotte route project, it will be the first time in the airport’s history that a network carrier will provide direct service to a hub airport. A central airport allows passengers to take connecting flights to destinations across the country.
“We were very excited,” said Ed Wuelner, longtime airport manager, who was briefed on the FAA’s decision by the office of Congressman John Rutherford (R-4th District). “We are trying to get to Dallas (American headquarters in Texas) to meet with them. I am optimistic that service could begin within the next six months.”
The airport said in its grant application that American could potentially start daily non-stop service to Charlotte as early as December. Wuellner said it remains a possibility.
The airport last offered air flights in 2018
The Northeast Florida Regional Airport has been without air service since 2018, when a now-defunct small passenger carrier called Via Airlines ended flights to St. Augustine. Via provided services in Charlotte as well as two locations in West Virginia.
The airport in 2017 saw the end of daily flights by Frontier Airlines, which withdrew after three years.
Frontier provided flights to Philadelphia and Chicago thanks in part to a $ 250,000 Small Community Air Services Development Grant that the Northeast Florida Regional Airport received from the FAA in 2012. This grant was used to promote low cost carrier service to and from St. Augustine.
In the early 2000s, the Northeast Florida Regional Airport also briefly offered Skybus flights to Columbus, Ohio, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Greensboro, North Carolina.
READ MORE: The airport in 2019 received a grant of $ 3.3 million for infrastructure improvements
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The community will provide matching funds
In the new FAA grant, the airport will be able to provide American with a minimum income guarantee of $ 1 million. This money can only be used if the airline does not meet its passenger ticket revenue target to justify the new route. The airport would then make up the difference until the grant money runs out, Wuellner said.
Federal law prohibits US airports from directly subsidizing airlines. The Northeast Florida Regional Airport and Daytona Beach International Airport both operate as corporate funds, meaning they do not use ad valorem tax revenues collected from their respective counties. . Instead, they depend solely on income and fees collected from tenants as well as grants.
The largest tenant at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport is Northrop Grumman, which builds military jets at a 151-acre factory that employs 1,100 workers and is one of the county’s largest private sector employers. of St. Johns. Other tenants include two private flight schools, a fixed operator that provides fuel and services to business jets and small aircraft, and four aircraft maintenance facilities.
The airport is located at 4900 US Highway 1 North, approximately three miles north of downtown St. Augustine.
American provided the Northeast Florida Regional Airport with a letter of support earlier this year to be included in the airport’s grant application to the FAA. In that letter, Margaret Muir, senior manager of network planning and airline schedules, wrote: “Stakeholders in the St. Augustine economy would benefit from regular service to the American hub at Charlotte, and St. Augustine service would provide a valuable option for Service to Florida from Charlotte. “
The St. Johns County Tourism Bureau has pledged $ 300,000 in matching funds to support the Northeast Florida Regional Airport’s bid for the FAA grant.
In addition, the St. Johns County Airport has committed in its request to provide $ 100,000 to market and promote the St. Augustine-Charlotte service offered by American for the first two years.
Community matching funds were one of the FAA’s requirements for the 22 Small Community Air Service Development Grants awarded this year. The federal agency received a total of 78 requests for airports from 38 states. He ended up selecting only one per state.
“We are delighted,” said Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, at the likelihood that American will begin offering daily non-stop flights to its central airport in Charlotte. . A central airport allows air travelers to take connecting flights to destinations across the country.
“This is definitely an advantage for the destination both in terms of leisure and business travel in both directions,” he said.
St. Johns Country attracts more than six million visitors a year, said Goidman.
In February, the travel website TripAdvisor named St. Augustine the No. 2 “trending” travel destination in the country since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began last year.
Daytona airport manager keeps hope
Daytona Beach International Airport was hoping to secure the grant so it could provide revenue guarantees and marketing to convince United Airlines and American Airlines to offer non-stop flights to Chicago. United has also expressed interest in potentially offering non-stop flights from Daytona Beach to Washington, DC.
“The FAA grant would have helped, but we still hope the demand for service from Daytona Beach to Chicago and Washington, DC speaks for itself,” Feaster said. “We have provided airlines with data showing strong interest from area residents in these destinations. Volusia County Council also recently approved our Air Services Support Program which would allow airlines to test our market with minimized financial risk. “
The Florida Department of Transportation recently named Daytona Beach International Airport as the Commercial Service Airport of the Year for its security measures, cosmetic upgrades, and efforts to provide a good experience for air travelers. .
Volusia County attracts over 10 million visitors each year.
Two other Florida airports have also applied for the FAA’s Small Community Air Services Development Grant: Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Brevard County and Lakeland Linder International Airport in Polk County.