Airline to offer nonstop daily flights between cities

The city of Santa Fe and the Dallas-based airline officially announced Thursday at a lively news conference at Santa Fe Municipal Airport that regional jet service between Santa Fe and Dallas will begin June 11.

American Eagle will offer a nonstop daily flight, arriving at 11:45 a.m. from Dallas and returning there with a 12:10 p.m. departure from Santa Fe.

The service will be provided on a 60-day test basis using Embraer 44-seat ERJ-140 jets, which fly at an altitude of 40,000 feet at a speed of 500 mph.

Tickets go on sale on Sunday and will be priced to compete with flights from Albuquerque to Dallas, said Jerry Krus, American Eagle’s regional sales manager.

“This service is a long-anticipated opportunity which will open new doors for Santa Fe businesses and will help us move forward on our economic development goals of diversifying the economy and providing high-wage jobs,” Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said in a statement. He thanked Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and others who helped bring the jet service.

At the news conference, Coss called American Eagle’s decision to start up flights as “a great day for Santa Fe. It’s exciting to see so many people at the airport.”

His remarks were greeted by applause and cheers from a crowd of about 80 gathered at the airport.

The turnout inspired Brian Coutts, American Eagle’s managing director of sales, to say, “I do a lot of these things, but this is an incredible turnout.”

Coss also thanked airport manager Jim Montman for shepherding commercial air service from being just a note in the city’s general plan 10 years ago to a reality today. “He made this work for American Eagle,” Coss said.

“We’re very excited in this tough economic time that American Eagle has chosen Santa Fe for its next expansion route,” Montman said before the news conference. “We’re hoping the initial test period is successful and if so, we’re certain American Eagle will look at additional service for the city based on that success.”

The new flight also “clearly reflects their confidence in Santa Fe as a destination. We want to be able to prove that to them,” he said.

American Eagle’s manager of business development Roger Barsamian said at the press conference that the airlines “has been trying to get into Santa Fe for 10 years. We think this is a win-win situation” for Santa Fe and Dallas.

He added: “It’s pretty special for us to provide a new route in this kind of economy.”

Both Krus and Barsamian pointed out that the mid-day arrival and departure of the American Eagle Service to Santa Fe is particularly advantageous for the business traveler, who can conduct a morning meeting before departing for the airport.

“The flights are not too early in the morning,” Barsamian said.

“We want this to be successful,” Krus added.

American Eagle officials declined to say how much tickets would cost, other than to say the fare would be comparable to flights offered by American Airlines from Albuquerque to Dallas.

American’s Web site listed an economy round-trip ticket between Albuquerque and Dallas leaving Sunday and returning Tuesday at $394.

Montman said the city has yet to finalize lease agreements with American Eagle for use of airport facilities. He added that the airport restaurant plans to reopen and that the rental car agencies and shuttles at the airport will be notified of the need to provide additional vehicles once the service starts.

“We’re in the process of building a $2.5 million fire station,” he said, explaining that the station is being built with a combination of federal, state and city funds.

“We have a temporary fire station there now,” Montman said. “The fire truck is already here.”

The city agreed previously to split the cost of buying ground-support equipment with the airlines, but that $400,000 has not yet been spent. The city will own the equipment once it has been purchased.

Airport businesses, such as car rental agencies and shuttle companies, will benefit from the new service, several workers said.

“Hopefully things will pick up,” said Frank Montoya, a driver for Road Runner Airport Shuttle. He waited near his shuttle, parked in front of the terminal. “We’re the only shuttle that provides door-to-door service to Santa Fe and Los Alamos. “American Eagle is going to help.”

Montoya said he has been working for the shuttle service for 15 years and remembers when Santa Fe was served only by “puddle jumpers” flying from Santa Fe to Denver.

Delta Connection considered regional jet service to Santa Fe from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City but then decided not to do so.

The American Eagle flights comes after the Federal Aviation Administration in late February issued a long-awaited approval for the regional jet service. The FAA’s final environmental assessment was the last government obstacle standing in the way of jet service.

The environmental assessment ran into delays after Santo Domingo Pueblo objected to commercial flights over the pueblo. There was also some opposition by neighbors of the airport who expressed concerns about noise.

In comments made before the press conference, Simon Brackley, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’re very excited to welcome America Eagle air service to Santa Fe. We believe it will be a great asset to the businesses and residents in the city. Particularly in this economic climate, it’s good to have a new community asset to celebrate.”

In providing the service, “American Eagle recognizes Santa Fe as a world-class tourist destination and that people will travel here even in a slow economy,” Brackley said.

Keith Toler, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he was excited that the service will not only improve tourism but could also help raise city real estate values.

“We will certainly use it as a selling point in talking with our meeting and event planners,” he said, “and I’m going to require that my staff use American Eagle out of Santa Fe. They may not be able to get a seat every time, but I want them to look there first.”