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Southwest Airlines Will Begin Fresno Service Next Year, Company Says.



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Southwest Airlines plans to begin service to Fresno Yosemite International Airport in the second quarter of 2021, the company announced in a news release Wednesday morning.

The announcement said the airline would also begin serving Santa Barbara Airport around the same time.

“Our arrival in the Heart of California, both on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley, will round out nearly four decades of investment in our California
Customers and communities,” Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer & Executive Vice President Andrew Watterson said in the release.

Kevin Meikle, Director of Aviation for Fresno Yosemite International Airport, added ”For years residents and businesses throughout Central California have expressed a desire for Southwest service and connectivity to their vast network of destinations and renowned customer service,” said  “Southwest will expand the Central Valley’s air transportation gateway to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and we look forward to our new partnership with
Southwest and their arrival in the spring.”

This is a developing story and will be updated. GV Wire’s original story is below.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly wasn’t shy when he spoke with Reuters recently about his airline’s future. The company plans to continue adding new markets to its network after announcing about 10 new destinations during the pandemic.

Southwest recently unveiled plans to launch service at Chicago O’Hare and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental airports, two United hubs, next year, as well as places like Palm Springs and Sarasota, Florida.

In October, Southwest Airlines said it will operate 13 daily departures from Colorado Springs to five destinations starting March 11.

“There’s more coming,” Kelly said at a virtual Wings Club event on December 10. The destinations are intended to be permanent additions to Southwest’s network, he said.

If they were to approach us and say ‘we would like to serve this market’, we are prepared to say yes,” said Kevin Meikle, Fresno’s director of aviation.

“If they were to approach us and say ‘we would like to serve this market’, we are prepared to say yes.”Kevin Meikle, Fresno aviation director

New Parking Garage Sends Signal

With 917 parking spaces in a new four-story covered garage coming to Fresno’s Yosemite airport in late summer, Meikle says it sends a powerful message to the air carriers.

“What it tells the airline (industry) is that we’re on top of taking care of our facilities so they can operate efficiently,” explains Meikle. “So I would say the parking project is kind of that next little check box that we needed to do.”

The $29 million parking garage is part of a larger $115 million airport expansion project dubbed “FATforward.” Expanding the terminal is a key component as well.

Rendering of the Fresno Yosemite airport parking garage. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Fresno Airport Terminal Expansion

“We’re planning a terminal expansion,” says Meikle. “It’s going to be three years because it takes two years to build it. And as the recovery continues on the path that it has been for our airport, we anticipate pulling the trigger on that one early next fall.”

Meikle says a number of additional components are included:

— A new upper level concourse in the existing terminal with dual-use passenger bridges.
— A new international arrivals facility to accommodate the growing volume of passenger arrivals.
— Expanded outbound baggage facilities.
— An expanded security checkpoint.
— Added tenant and concession spaces.

Pandemic Effects That Could Benefit Fresno

“The airlines are starting to do things that they perhaps would have never thought of doing before the pandemic,” explains Meikle.

He says the pandemic is actually providing an opportunity for airlines to rethink their route structure, rethink where they go, flight frequency, and type and size of aircraft. These include, “airlines like Southwest or like, for example, a Spirit or Sun Country or others that we talk to,” says Meikle.

Prior to COVID, Southwest was doing some planning in the Caribbean and Mexico.

Now, Meikle says the airlines are working to capitalize on how they can come out of COVID-19 better than where they were before the pandemic.

Meikle said he met with Southwest in person earlier this year, and he’s had conversations with the company since.

His message?

“I want to make sure we’re still on your radar.”

Fresno on Southwest’s ‘Short Term Radar’

“In the last three to four years, we have been on their short term radar. It’s just that they’ve had other corporate strategic initiatives which have not been focused on the lower 48 (states),” said Meikle.

He says some of Southwest’s focus has been on spending money to upgrade their aircraft from older 737’s to newer 737’s. Another area of focus was Southwest adding Hawaii into several of their routes.

The pandemic has shifted their radar.

“Before the pandemic hit, there were no aircraft laying around sitting and doing nothing,” says Meikle. “They weren’t in this mode of heavy expansion on the lower 48 (states).”

He says “there’s opportunity” as a result of the pandemic because aircraft are sitting unused.

Other Airlines Making Moves

The pandemic isn’t just shifting the business model for Southwest Airlines. Other airlines are making moves at Fresno’s Airport now and likely in the immediate future, Meikle said.

For instance, Frontier Airlines has increased the frequency of its departures to Denver from Fresno.

Also, before the pandemic, Meikle said Alaska Airlines was planning on using some of their narrow bodied aircraft for their busier routes into Seattle. That thinking has now shifted and the airline is looking at using a bigger 737 to go from Fresno to Seattle.

“Now we’re hearing it’s possible sometime in 2021 we could actually see that happening,” says Meikle.

Another example is American Airlines and their Dallas route. Before the pandemic they were hovering around 3 flights a day.

“They’re up to four a day,” said Meikle.