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Westmoreland

Southern Airways' proposed Latrobe-Pittsburgh flights not a threat, Spirit Airlines exec says

Jeff Himler
| Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, 6:09 p.m.
Spirit Airlines CEO Bob Fornaro talks about the airline's plans at Pittsburgh International Airport and Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity while meeting with reporters Nov. 6, 2017 at The Fairmont in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Spirit Airlines CEO Bob Fornaro talks about the airline's plans at Pittsburgh International Airport and Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity while meeting with reporters Nov. 6, 2017 at The Fairmont in Pittsburgh.
Spirit Airlines CEO Bob Fornaro talks about the airline's plans at Pittsburgh International Airport and Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity while meeting with reporters Nov. 6, 2017 at The Fairmont in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Spirit Airlines CEO Bob Fornaro talks about the airline's plans at Pittsburgh International Airport and Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity while meeting with reporters Nov. 6, 2017 at The Fairmont in Pittsburgh.

As Spirit Airlines plans this week to expand its service at Pittsburgh International Airport with seasonal nonstop flights to Tampa and Fort Myers, Fla., another airline offering budget fares — Southern Airways Express — is talking once more about providing commuter service at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe.

Spirit currently is the sole carrier at the Unity airport.

Spirit CEO Bob Fornaro said Monday at a meeting with reporters in Pittsburgh that he's pleased with his airline's business at Latrobe and would consider another company's commuter flights from there to Pittsburgh a complementary service rather than competition.

“To a degree, that helps the city and ties it into other things,” Fornaro said. “I think that's fine. It wouldn't necessarily have any impact on what we're doing.”

Mark Cestari, executive vice president of development, said Southern Airways officials “believe that Latrobe would be a great addition. We have tripled the size of Southern Airways since 2016, and our first priority is providing high quality service to our existing destinations. Hopefully, we will have the resources to properly add Latrobe to our map in 2018.”

The Tennessee-based carrier had cited a goal of beginning commuter service at Arnold Palmer Regional in April, but those plans were delayed when the airline shifted its focus to adding routes in Arkansas.

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, also believes a commuter service would complement Spirit's business at Arnold Palmer — nonstop flights to Florida locations and to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As of Monday, he'd received no update on the Southern Airways commuter plans and didn't expect any immediate action on them, but he said the parties are “still talking.”

Flights between the Unity and Pittsburgh airports previously were offered from 1985 through July 2009 by subsidiaries of US Airways Express and then Northwest Airlines.

As for Spirit's plans at the Unity airport, Fornaro said, “We're comfortable with where we are in Latrobe. I think we've got a good core level of service and we expect that to continue.”

He wouldn't rule out Spirit trying new routes at Arnold Palmer but said, “I'm not sure we're going to see a big expansion from where we are. We think Pittsburgh and Latrobe are complementary, but we also think (Pittsburgh) is going to be the larger operation because the regional draw of Pittsburgh is bigger. It's more difficult to get customers in the broader region to go to Latrobe than to come to (Pittsburgh).”

In 2015, Spirit added flights from Arnold Palmer to Las Vegas and Chicago, but those routes were later dropped.

Fornaro believes the market will support Spirit's daily flight from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. Spirit also flies from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Myrtle Beach and Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.

The seasonal flights to Fort Myers and Tampa likely will be offered through late April, Fornaro said.

The Westmoreland airport authority is moving forward with improvements at Arnold Palmer Regional. A new terminal exit that allows arriving passengers to walk directly from the baggage claim area to the parking lot should be ready for use this week, Monzo said.

Construction of a new airport entrance road that will connect with a recently completed roundabout on Route 981 is about 20 percent complete, he said.

A proposed expansion of the Arnold Palmer terminal would add as many as two additional passenger bridges, to serve multiple planes simultaneously.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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