Monday, February 05, 2007

Flying High

A Houston base airline will begin non-stop flight from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

ExpressJet is the first new airline carrier to bring flight service to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

The airline will bring back daily nonstop flights to Kansas City, Mo.; Birmingham; Jacksonville, Fla., and the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. Service from New Orleans to those cities had not been available since before Katrina.

ExpressJet will also offer nonstop service to Austin and San Antonio.

A spokeswoman for ExpressJet said today that the cities were selected based on market research showing a business demand for daily flight service to those cities, as well as a need for residents who were scattered to those cities by Hurricane Katrina to come back to New Orleans regularly.

“All of these cities are very important to New Orleans doing well,” said Dan Packer, chairman of the New Orleans Aviation Board.

Tourism officials said the new flights are great news for New Orleans’ struggling tourism industry, which before Katrina was responsible for $210 million, or 35 percent, of the city’s operating budget, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We hope to help you rebuild your town,” ExpressJet spokeswoman Karen Miles told city, airport and tourism officials at a news conference today.

Sean Hunter, New Orleans Interim Director of Aviation, said receiving a new carrier, six new destinations and 12 additional flights per day are significant steps toward returning to pre-Katrina levels of air service.

It will restore flight service to about 75 percent of pre-Katrina levels, and restore the number of destinations to about 90 percent of pre-Katrina levels, Hunter said.

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