ST. GEORGE – Phoenix has long been a destination mentioned by city officials as a favored location for a new airline route out of St. George. During a St. George City Council meeting Thursday, SkyWest Airlines CEO Chip Childs announced that the route had become a reality and will begin operation in November.
Beginning Nov. 4, SkyWest Airlines, through a relationship fostered with American Airlines, will offer daily, round-trip flights out of St. George Regional Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“This is a long awaited announcement,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. “It’s going to open up even more of the world to St. George.”
St. George-based SkyWest Airlines is the largest regional airline in the world, Pike said, and now it is partnered with American Airlines, the largest airline service on the planet.
Through its hub in Phoenix, SkyWest’s American Airlines connection provides access to over 300 departures daily to over 100 destinations. Nearly 80 of those destinations involve nonstop flights.
Among those destinations are Mexico, the Hawaiian islands and much of the West Coast, Childs said.
“We’re very optimistic about Phoenix service,” he said.
With the addition of the Phoenix route via American Airlines, St. George now has access to the three largest airlines in the world, which includes United Airlines and Delta Airlines, through hubs in Salt Lake City and Denver respectively.
“It’s really unprecedented,” said Marissa Snow, SkyWest’s director of corporate communications. “There’s really not another community this size that has access to the three largest carriers in the world.”
The addition of the new route will also benefit the St. George Regional Airport, Airport Manager Richard Stehmeier said.
“This kind of growth does great things for the airport,” Stehmeier said, adding that the increase of fliers in and out of the airport will help create additional services, such as restaurants and the like.
Enplanements – a fancy term used for counting passengers boarding planes flying out of airports – have grown every year at the St. George Regional Airport ever since its move to the new site in 2010, Stehmeier said.
According to FAA data, plane boardings out of St. George Regional Airport reached 69,676, a 17.46 percent jump over 59,321 boardings in 2014, which itself saw an increase of 8.7 percent over 2013’s numbers.
The new airport set south of the city was built for around $160 million. It was a necessary upgrade if the city wanted to get jet-service into the region. The old mesa-top location on the Black Hill in downtown St. George couldn’t support such service. This, along with safety concerns related to the old location, necessitated the creation of the new airport.
“It was a critical decision,” Childs said.
Stehmeier said the city had been working with SkyWest to look into opening a route to Phoenix for the last year or more. For SkyWest’s part, Childs said it simply was the right time to move ahead.
“The timing was right,” Childs said, citing low fuel prices, the fall travel season and SkyWest’s increased relationship with American Airlines.
While Pike said he expects the new route to be popular, the City of St. George has nonetheless budgeted $250,000 for SkyWest to help cover any potential losses in the first year of operation if it doesn’t take off as expected. The Washington County Commission has also committed $100,000 in its budget next year for the same purpose.
Service to Phoenix will be provided by SkyWest operating as American Eagle and will be scheduled for daily round-trip flights. The once daily flights are just over an hour and are scheduled to leave St. George at 8 a.m., with return flights departing Phoenix at 5 p.m. and arriving in St. George at 7:05 p.m. The apparent 2 hour return flight time mentioned here is due to daylight savings time, which ends Nov. 6. The return flight takes 1 hour and five minutes.
Flights on the new Phoenix route can be booked starting Saturday, Aug. 13, on American Airlines’ website, or by calling American reservations at 800-433-7300.
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