RIC chief urges flyers to change buying habits

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - The CEO of RIC is urging flyers to reconsider how they get from "Point A" to "Point B".

Ten years ago, Richmond had some of the highest airfares in the United States. Now, they're below the national average. There's a concern that without some changes, those prices may be going back up.

When JetBlue and AirTran entered the Richmond market, they helped to bring down the cost of an airline ticket. Now, Richmond International Airport's (RIC's) top executive says they could bring down the region...if they ever decide to leave.

"If we don't have competitive fares in our region...we're dead," said Jon Mathiasen, president and CEO of the Capital Region Airport Commission.

Speaking bluntly to a room full of local leaders, Mathiasen is urging flyers to use low-cost carriers more often.

"I'm not saying fly AirTrain, JetBlue only. Don't want anybody to misunderstand me. But we've got to give up our frequent flyer addictions, and fly all of our airlines," he said.

Mathiasen argues that regular support for low-cost airlines will keep overall prices down and attract the kind of businesses that local leaders covet.

James Donati represents Varina on the Henrico Board of Supervisors.

"We want to make sure the community supports those low-cost carriers, because if they don't have the passengers that can fill those seats they might leave, and airfares can go back up," Donati said.

In a major development for RIC, AirTran will soon become Southwest. Low-cost and legacy carriers help the airport inject $900 million into the local economy. But if the passengers aren't there, Mathiasen believes the region pays a much bigger price.

"So the airport will survive without low-cost carriers. I'm most concerned, I don't think this region will," he said.

The presentation took place before the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, which passed a resolution supporting the use of low-cost airlines.

Southwest Airlines' purchase of AirTran still needs to be approved by the federal government. The change is expected to become final next year.

A response from RIC's traditional "legacy" carriers was not immediately available.

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