Allegiant, VPS announce new base, new routes, new jobs

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The Las Vegas-based airline’s service at VPS began with six routes in 2016 and jumped to 16 cities last year. The company’s latest growth, which includes some $50 million in investment at VPS, is anticipated to bring $418 million in tourism revenue to the region over the next five years.

TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

 

VALPARAISO — The fastest-growing airport in the Southeast is ready to expand again, thanks to another major growth spurt by Allegiant Air.

Okaloosa County officials joined Allegiant employees at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport on Tuesday to celebrate the airline’s official announcement that it will establish a two-aircraft, year-round base at VPS, add five seasonal routes and provide more than 65 new high-paying jobs.

“More routes mean more visitors, and more visitors mean more economic spending,” Thayne Klingler, Allegiant Air’s director of airport affairs, said at the celebration.

The Las Vegas-based airline’s service at VPS began with six routes in 2016 and jumped to 16 cities last year. The company’s latest growth, which includes some $50 million in investment at VPS, is anticipated to bring $418 million in tourism revenue to the region over the next five years.

 

During Tuesday’s ceremony, County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel commended county Airports Director Tracy Stage for bringing more growth to VPS during his tenure than at any other time in the airport’s history. Stage has served as the director since early 2016 and has worked for the county since 2006.

Last October the County Commission approved giving $1 million worth of bed tax-funded incentives to help Allegiant expand its operations. The airline reportedly will also receive up to $475,000 in matching funds from Visit Florida’s Air Team Florida program.

Allegiant’s announcement on its expansion “is a great reminder of how our tourism industry supports Florida business and communities and creates new opportunities for our families,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a video that was aired at Tuesday’s event. 

Ketchel, who serves as the liaison between the commission and the Airports Department, praised the new jobs that Allegiant will provide as well as its low-cost flights to new destinations.

“We continue to grow,” Ketchel said of the county. “We have been discovered.”

Allegiant immediately plans to start hiring pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians and ground personnel for its expanded service at VPS. Applications are available at allegiant.com/careers.

The new positions “are expected to offer average salaries more than double the area’s average wage,” Allegiant officials said in a press release.

The average annual wage in Okaloosa County in 2016 was $42,156, according to the most recent data available from the county’s Economic Development Council.

Allegiant’s new routes will operate twice weekly. They are:

• Bentonville, Arkansas, via Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) — begins June 6 with fares starting at $68.

• Concord, North Carolina, via Concord Regional Airport (USA) — begins June 7 with fares starting at $46.

• Lexington, Kentucky, via Blue Grass Airport (LEX) — begins June 7 with fares starting at $62.

• Evansville, Indiana, via Evansville Regional Airport (EVV) — begins June 8 with fares starting at $61.

• Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, via Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) — begins June 8 with fares starting at $46.

Any flights that bring more visitors to the area will benefit the local economy, county Tourist Development Council Chairman Bruce Craul said before Tuesday’s ceremony. Allegiant officials said their new flights will bring almost 25,000 additional visitors to the area annually.

Allegiant’s rapid growth has helped spur some of its competitors to boost their service, Ketchel said. For example, she noted how American Airlines plans to offer nonstop flights between VPS and Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport in May.

“Competition is a good thing,” Ketchel said. “It’s the American way.”

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