Officials cite inability to compete as possible reason for Allegiant discontinuing Arizona flight

ST. GEORGE — Last fall Allegiant Air started a twice-weekly flight out of St. George that took travelers to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The route was touted to be an affordable option for flights to and from southern Arizona. However, with the reopening of the St. George Regional Airport, the Allegiant flight did not resume.

Allegiant Air’s Airbus 319 lands its inaugural arrival flight connecting Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to St. George Regional Airport, St. George, Utah, Nov. 9, 2018 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Local officials believe the airline pulled out due to unprofitable competition with the Phoenix route offered through American Airlines.

“When they came in, they were competing against American Airlines,” St. George Regional Airport manager Richard Stehmeier said. “American dropped its prices to Phoenix and ran four flights a day while Allegiant did two a week.”

The Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is located 20 miles from Phoenix and was seen as a less expensive alternative to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.

However, the plane Allegiant used for the flight was an Airbus A319, and it wasn’t filling up as much as the American flights did, Stehmeier said. Allegiant flights were filling at below 40%, while American flights were getting up to 90% capacity.

People enter the St. George Regional Airport terminal for an open house after being shutdown for four month for runway reconstruction, St. George, Utah, Sept. 25, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“When you operate a plane of that size, you’ve got to be able to fill it up,” he said.

Allegiant’s flights out of St. George started November 2018 after being announced in August.

At the time, Dustin Call, manager of airport affairs for Allegiant, said St. George was chosen as a location for flights as an opportunity to draw passengers from across the West, as well as its proximity to Zion National Park.

Unlike other airlines currently flying out of the St. George Regional Airport, Allegiant came to St. George on its own and not through the efforts of SkyWest Airlines. It also did not receive any financial incentives from the city of St. George or Washington County to help start the new route.

“There was no financial assistance,” St. George City Manager Adam Lenhard said.

Like Stehmeier, Lenhard believes Allegiant pulled out of St. George due to not being able to compete with American’s Phoenix flight.

St. George Regional Airport manager Richard Stehmeier at the open house of the new airport runway, St. George, Utah, Sept. 25, 2019 |File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Stehmeier said he thinks the flight to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway may have been an experiment of sorts for the airline. Being located out of Las Vegas, there wasn’t much capital overlay involved in setting it up, he said.

He said he had suggested that Allegiant consider flying to a different location other than Phoenix – including destinations like Oakland, California, and other spots on the West Coast – so it wouldn’t be competing with American.

“We’d support them 100%,” Stehmeier said.

However, shortly before the airport reopened after being closed for four months for runway repair, Allegiant contacted Stehmeier and told him they were discontinuing service to southern Arizona out of St. George for now.

Sonya Padgett, with Allegiant’s media relations, issued the following statement in regards to the discontinued flight:

Allegiant’s business model is based on providing low-cost, affordable service to leisure travelers when they need it, which means our network planning team is constantly measuring demand and adjusting schedules when necessary. We hoped our low fares would stimulate interest in our service from St. George to Mesa but demand was soft among our core customers. We will continue to evaluate future opportunities for leisure travelers in the region.

There is the possibility that Allegiant will return offering a different destination, the airport manager said.

A plane at the St. George Regional Airport as seen from the airport’s observation lounge, St. George, Utah, June 2015 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Rumors abound of future destinations that airlines may offer next, but neither Stehmeier nor Lenhard could say where those could be. Destinations that have been floated include California’s Bay Area, Seattle and possibly somewhere in the Midwest.

“We’ll likely see something in 2020,” Lenhard said. “We expect the airport to continue to grow. We expect to add new flights.”

Last year 277,000 people flew in and out of the airport, Stehmeier said, and in the first five months of 2019 prior to the airport’s temporary closure, the airport saw a 30% increase over use for the same period last year.

Since the airport reopened, Stehmeier said there haven’t been any flights under 80% capacity, which includes the new Dallas-Ft. Worth route. Typically a new route only fills up to around 50% at first then levels out at a higher capacity once its better established. Instead, each flight has been loaded with passengers.

“Growth is happening,” Stehmeier said.

The St. George Regional Airport currently has flights to Salt Lake City through Delta Airlines, Phoenix and Dallas-Ft. Worth through American Airlines and Los Angeles and Denver through United Airlines through connections made with St. George-based SkyWest Airlines.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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