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New airline to launch at BWI

New airline to launch at BWI

A low-cost Nevada airline known for serving travelers from smaller cities plans to begin flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport with six new routes this spring.

Allegiant Air is slated to make the announcement at the airport Tuesday, offering a limited number of $39 one-way fares to promote the new service.

Allegiant will fly to Asheville, N.C., known for its arts scene, and Savannah, Ga., known for its antebellum architecture. It also will offer flights to Cincinnati, Knoxville, Tenn., Lexington, Ky., and Tulsa, Okla. The first of the twice-weekly flights starts at the end of April.

Officials said they expect the new routes to bring travelers to the region for visits to Washington and other areas.

While BWI has nonstop flights to Cincinnati — with round-trip fares of more than $200 on a typical weekend — it does not have direct connections to the other airports.

"We expect this to bring a lot of travel to this region," said Ricky Smith, CEO of BWI Marshall. "Just as important as it is to bring on a new carrier, what's more important is that they're actually … offering service to markets that wouldn't otherwise be served."

Allegiant Air, established in Nevada in 1997, flies to more than 100 U.S. cities, with hubs in destinations such as Florida and Phoenix, Ariz. As the airline expands its offerings, it has started to establish a presence at slightly larger airports, such as Pittsburgh and Memphis, Tenn.

Tha airline had 271 routes in 104 cities at the end of September, up from 231 routes in 96 cities the year before, according to SEC filings. It is announcing 19 new routes on Tuesday, including the six at BWI, spokesman Brandon Myers said.

Smith said the airport has been talking to Allegiant on and off for several years. In addition to flights, the airline often sells packages, including hotels and car rentals.

"We know there is demand from local Baltimore-area travelers for our low-cost, nonstop flights, and conversely we know there is demand for passengers in cities including Cincinnati and Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a low-cost nonstop flight to Washington via BWI," Myers wrote in an email.

Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Buruea, said she was thrilled.

"We known that we have a tremendous amount of awareness in the capitol region… so I think that ease of access will really open the door," she said.

Passenger traffic at BWI has been increasing, with the number of travelers up about 5 percent for the 12 months ended in October, spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

Smith said Allegiant's lower fares match BWI's brand as an "easy-come, easy-go" airport, known for other budget airlines such as Southwest Airlines, Norwegian Air, Spirit Airlines and Wow Air, all of which increased local service last year.

"Allegiant is just one more of those carriers that offers a good product at a very competitive price," he said.

The airline, based in suburban Las Vegas, reported Friday that it flew 9.4 million people in 2015, up from about 8 million in 2014.

The airline made $44.5 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, triple what it earned a year earlier on falling fuel costs. Revenue was $300 million, up 13 percent.

The company has been criticized for its maintenance practices by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1224, which represents its pilots and with which it is involved in a contract fight. The airline calls the criticism unfounded.

Allegiant had several unusual incidents, with a string of emergency landings at the end of the year prompted by maintenance or mechanical issues. The airline has been purchasing the fuel-efficient Airbus planes, but much of its inventory is older.

Myers said Allegiant is a safe airline.

"We have robust internal and external auditing programs and are investing heavily in new training programs and technologies that are industry-leading," Myers said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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