Nonstop air service from Charleston to Orlando, Florida, is returning to Yeager Airport on a year-round, three-flights-a-week basis, low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines and Yeager Airport officials announced Tuesday.
Spirit will inaugurate the new service to Orlando International Airport on Feb. 14, 2020, with flights departing the Charleston airport at 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and departing Orlando at noon on the same days. Spirit currently offers seasonal non-stop flights between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which continue on to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The return of nonstop service to the central Florida city has been a high-priority target for Yeager’s marketing staff for years. AirTran, another low-cost carrier, provided three weekly nonstop flights to Orlando for three years, ending in 2012, when it was bought by Southwest Airlines, which dropped the flights. The Charleston-Orlando service had been profitable for AirTran, but did not meet Southwest’s operations policy of not using outsourced ground and ticketing crews, as AirTran did and Spirit continues to do at Yeager.
“Today, Disney World has come to us,” said Ed Hill, president of Yeager Airport’s governing board, during a ceremony announcing the new Orlando service at Spirit’s ticket booth in the Charleston airport’s passenger terminal.
“This announcement is the result of a relentless effort by Yeager Airport’s marketing staff” and bipartisan support from West Virginia’s congressional delegation, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. “We will make other big announcements regarding this airport during the next 12 months.”
Carper added that without the $25 million rebuild of the Charleston airport’s collapsed safety zone and the restoration of its EMAS bed, the new nonstop Florida service would not have happened.
The 685-mile Charleston-Orlando flights will be the longest nonstops offered at Yeager.
“We’re excited to bring new nonstop service to Orlando, connecting West Virginia to the theme park capital of the world,” said John Kirby, Spirit’s vice president of network planning, in a news release announcing the flights. “Orlando International Airport is the preferred gateway to the attractions, and Spirit’s new flights will help more families save money on travel to spend more on their dream vacations.”
At the Orlando airport, Charleston passengers will also be able to connect with Spirit flights to other U.S. and Caribbean destinations, Kirby said.
To support the new flights, several additional employees will be hired at Capital Jet Center, the airport’s general aviation operation, which provides ground crew and ticketing personnel for Spirit’s Charleston operation, according to Nick Keller, Yeager’s executive director.
Earlier this month, Spirit added flights connecting Tampa, Florida, with Indianapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; New York’s LaGuardia International; and Newark, New Jersey’s Liberty International airport.
Last month, the carrier placed an order for 100 new Airbus A319, A320 and A321 passenger jets. The Airbus A319, configured to carry 145 Spirit passengers, and the 178-passenger A320, will be used on the Charleston-Orlando flights, according to Mike Penland, general manager of Spirit’s Atlanta hub, who announced the new flights during Tuesday’s ceremony.
An $875,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded to Yeager five years ago will allow the Charleston airport to provide $400,000 in revenue guarantees to Spirit during the first two years of the new service. The remaining $375,000 will be used by Yeager and Spirit to market the flights.
Also during Tuesday’s ceremony, Hill announced that $4.3 million in FEMA disaster relief grants stemming from the March 2015 collapse had been released to the airport earlier in the day. The airport’s finance committee voted Tuesday to recommend to the governing board that the money be used to pay off a loan needed to buy Capital Jet Service from the previous general aviation franchise holder, Executive Air.
The early retirement of the loan will save the airport $1.8 million in interest costs, according to Keller.