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Two Discount Airlines Launch S.D. Flights

Two new discount-fare airlines, Independence Air and WestJet, will soon line up on Lindbergh Field’s runway to get their share of the airport’s fast-growing passenger market.

Dulles, Va.-based Independence Air is scheduled to make its initial push into California on April 14 with nonstop, once daily round-trip flights between Washington Dulles and Lindbergh Field.

“We’re absolutely delighted anytime we have a new carrier that brings new service to San Diego,” said Joe Craver, the chairman of the board of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and president of San Diego-based Galaxie Management.

Separately, Calgary, Alberta-based WestJet plans to launch a temporary, seasonal route, starting with one daily nonstop flight between Lindbergh Field and Calgary International Airport on June 2, according to Airport Authority spokesman Steve Shultz.

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News of the two carrier’s local routes were first reported on April 4 by the

San Diego Business Journal

‘s Web site, www.sdbj.com.

Last week, Independence Air was advertising one-way fares between San Diego and Washington, D.C., ranging in price from $109 to $174.

Currently, only United Airlines serves Lindbergh Field with direct nonstop flights to Washington Dulles.

On May 1, the airline will follow up with nonstop service between Washington Dulles and San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Seattle, according to its Web site.

WestJet’s round-trip fares for travel between San Diego and Calgary in June, listed last week on the airline’s Web site, ranged between $104 and $240.

When the Canadian route will be suspended is undetermined, but Shultz said it will be sometime in October.


Up And Away

Rick DeLisi, director of corporate communications for Independence Air, which separated from United Airlines during the Chicago carrier’s bankruptcy reorganization proceedings in 2002, said the discounter’s objective is to compete with United in its core markets.

“People in general have had a poor experience with legacy airlines and they’re ready for new low-fare alternatives,” DeLisi said.

United did not return phone calls. But according to the Airport Authority’s air traffic report for February , the most recent available , United had an 8.5 percent share of airline operations, or takeoffs and landings, at Lindbergh Field.

Yet the Downtown airport, which served some 16.4 million passengers in 2004, is seeing a bonanza of new nonstop, round-trip routes , including a once daily JetBlue flight between Washington Dulles and San Diego. The JetBlue flight will start on May 4.

According to industry analyst Raymond Neidl of New York-based Calyon Securities, the discounters are not only trying to steal market share from the full-fare airlines, but some discounters are going after others.

“JetBlue senses a weakness in Independence and it’s obviously trying to take advantage of that,” Neidl said.

Todd Burke, a spokesman for Forest Hills, N.Y.-based JetBlue, declined to comment on the analyst’s remark. But JetBlue, which is traded on Nasdaq as JBLU, had a better year-end balance sheet, reporting net income of $47.5 million in 2004, while Independence, traded on Nasdaq as FLYI, reported a preliminary net loss of $192 million.

JetBlue made its maiden flight from New York to San Diego in June 2003 and subsequently added another nonstop daily flight to the route. A third, seasonal nonstop flight to and from New York operates during July and August.


Going More Places

While Lindbergh Field’s 2004 passenger count was an all-time annual record for the airport, significantly surpassing the years before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, San Diego’s airline travelers “now have more ways to get more places,” Shultz said.

Within the last six months, Alaska Airlines launched a once daily nonstop flight to Vancouver, British Columbia; Aloha Airlines started a new nonstop route to Maui and another to Reno, Nev.; and America West initiated a new route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Among nonstop round-trip routes that were recently expanded from San Diego, America West began a daily flight to Los Cabos, Mexico; America West has one to Vancouver; and Aloha launched a route to Honolulu this month.

In February, an air traffic report for Lindbergh Field showed that it served roughly 1.2 million passengers on both domestic and international flights, an increase of 2.1 percent from the same month in 2004.

Year to date, the total stood at 2.4 million passengers, an increase of 4.9 percent from the same period in 2004.

Throughout most of 2004, the monthly year-over-year passenger tallies were up about 7 percent. Craver said although airport officials expected the counts would level off this year, the numbers are still climbing.

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