Southwest Airlines Is Coming to Panama City

Southwest Airlines Is Coming to Panama City
From 850 Business Magazine reports

Southwest Airlines on Wednesday announced it would begin jet service from Northwest Florida's new international airport near Panama City when it opens in May 2010.

The decision culminates months of manuvering by three of the region’s major airports to lure the low cost carrier. Panama City, along with Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport, located on the Eglin Air Force Base, had pieced together major financial incentives to demonstrate community support and assure the airline it would not lose money.

The winning proposal by the Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport was made possible through a strategic alliance agreement developed between Southwest and The St. Joe Company, one of Florida's largest landowners and real estate developers, which donated the land for the airport. St. Joe has reportedly pledged millions that would make up for any revenue loss experienced by the airline during the first few years of operation.

Southwest has not released specific service details, saying only that it will add at least two daily nonstop flights from Northwest Florida to four destinations across its 68 airport network, for a total of eight daily nonstop flights when it begins service next year. Northwest Florida will be the first international airport to open in the nation in more than a decade. Specific details on Southwest's fares and schedule will be available in December 2009.

"I am certain our more than 90 million annual customers will be delighted to learn they are now free to hit Florida's white-sand beaches with Southwest Airlines' great, low-fare service from across the nation's largest airline network, taking Northwest Florida visitors off the roadways and into the airways," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's chairman of the board, president, and CEO.
"Southwest's arrival in Northwest Florida is expected to stimulate job growth, economic development and give travelers more of the options they've been seeking," said Britt Greene, president and CEO of St. Joe. "Southwest will help position Northwest Florida as one of America's leading beach destinations."

A number of regional organizations are assisting in launching the service. Coastal Vision 3000, the Northwest Florida business group that created the regional destination brand, "THE Beach," is participating in the initiative. The Bay County Tourism Development Council and The South Walton Tourism Development Council have pledged marketing resources.

The announcement was met with disappointment by Joe Fegundes, who helped spearhead the drive to bring Southwest to Northwest Florida Regional Airport, located about 60 miles west of Panama City.

"Obviously, we are disappointed…however, our initiative was the beginning of implementing and maintaining the participation of local businesses in the growth of our local economy through our gateway to the rest of the country and world.  It will be important for everyone that participated in the Southwest to VPS campaign and even those that did not, to stay involved in the recruitment of new airlines and engaging our current carriers to expand services," he said.