PORTSMOUTH — Passenger air service will return to Pease International Airport this fall after more than five years without it.Allegiant Air announced Tuesday that they will resume flights out of Pease to Orlando, Fla., beginning Oct. 25 with introductory roundtrip fares on sale now for around $100 per person, including all fees.
Allegiant operated flights out of Pease from 2005 to 2007 but then moved its business to Bangor, Maine, when Skybus announced plans to start service at Pease. Skybus operated for eight months before going out of business, and Pease has been without passenger air service since.
Eric Fletcher, manager of airports for Allegiant, said the Portsmouth facility is perfect and the airline is doing well.
He said the local partnership with Pease made the decision possible.
Dave Mullen, president of the Pease Development Authority, said the airport's free parking and location are convenient for travelers, while the no-fee airport makes it attractive to airlines, with no landing fees, fuel flowage fees or other standard fees. Mullen said Pease officials have been doing everything they can to attract a passenger airline to Portsmouth.
"Allegiant makes sense because they are serving a market we had success with in the past," Mullen said.
Allegiant is planning to offer two flights each week out of Portsmouth direct to Orlando on Mondays and Fridays around 6:30 p.m. Depending on how things go, more departure times and additional destinations, including the possibility for international destinations, could be added.
Allegiant will operate 166-seat MD80 aircraft as well as 177-seat Airbus 320s out of Pease.
The ever-changing market, and Allegiant's improved business plan, also contributed to the decision.
Fletcher said fares out of Logan Airport in Boston have continuously gone up, making Portsmouth more convenient in comparison.
He said Allegiant is known for its "shockingly" low fares and said even when the introductory offer expires, fares will remain competitive.
Airline tickets will be available for purchase at the Pease International Tradeport terminal from 2 to 4 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays and at www.allegiantair.com.
Mullen also talked about the economic impact the service will have on the surrounding community.
The Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce is already working on creating packages to encourage travelers from Florida to visit Portsmouth, whether as a cooler summertime destination or as a gateway to New Hampshire's ski resorts in the winter with local hotels, rental car services, restaurants and local businesses all ready to entice them to stay a night or two in the Portsmouth area.
"The flow of economic development opportunity coming back to Portsmouth should be substantial," Mullen said.The service will also help Port City Air, which is waiting for a bid to be awarded for ground handling. PCA held the contract for Allegiant previously as well as for Skybus, which added 20 to 25 jobs to the company.PCA president Robert Jesurum said if the company is awarded the contract, it will not represent a big profit, but overall the return of passenger air service is good for business, as it keeps the airport active.
If the contract is awarded, Jesurum said it will take six to eight people to handle each trip.
"So it is small … but it does add payroll for the community," Jesurum said.
Some in attendance at Tuesday's news conference expressed skepticism at how long the air service will last given previous challenges.
Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce president Doug Bates questioned how the airline's business model was built, citing Skybus's failure in constructing its business plan around fuel costs.
Fletcher said Allegiant has been profitable for the last 43 consecutive quarters, and Portsmouth was a success story for it before.
"The last time our performance wasn't horrible, we just had better use for our assets elsewhere," Fletcher said.Allegiant was founded in 1998 and came into new ownership and management in 2001, spokesman Micah Lillard said. Over the past 10 years, the company has been gradually expanding service. On Tuesday, Allegiant announced service in 10 new cities, including Portsmouth, and the addition of 18 routes.The introductory fare flights out of Portsmouth were already filling up Tuesday with three seats left on the introductory flight Oct. 25 and seven left on the return flight Monday, Nov. 4, as of noontime, according to Allegiant's website.