Commercial air service returns to St. Cloud

meet-and-greet area
The St. Cloud Regional Airport, in a file photo from March 2009. Allegiant Airlines announced Thursday Aug. 23, 2012, that it would begin regular service between St. Cloud and Arizona in December.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Allegiant Air announced Thursday it will begin regular flights between St. Cloud's Regional Airport and the Phoenix area. The announcement brings air service back to a community that's been without it for nearly three years.

Officials in St. Cloud have been trying to lure a new airline to the community since Delta Airlines discontinued flights to Minneapolis in December 2009.

Al Kremers, who has spearheaded the effort on behalf of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., said the news is a good start.

"Our next objective is to get something from St. Cloud to Chicago," he said, adding that the ultimate goal is nonstop daily service to Chicago.

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Kremers said he hopes Allegiant's entry in the market will demonstrate to other airlines that there's a demand for commercial airline service.

Area businesses indicated in a survey they'd spend roughly $22 million on air service, and more than $6 million of that with travel to Chicago, according to Kremers.

The development corporation is in conversations with four different airlines regarding Chicago service. It hopes to make an announcement later this year and start flights in the first quarter of 2013.

The lack of airline service was an obstacle in attracting new business to the region, according to Teresa Bohnen, president of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. It also hindered efforts by existing companies to expand. She hopes Allegiant's entry into the market will lead to more business growth.

"It's important in a way that a carrier has found our market attractive enough to actually enter," said Bohnen. "And hopefully others will follow suit."

Similar to Spirit Airlines, which started service into Minneapolis this spring, Allegiant Air is a low-cost carrier. Its model is to link smaller communities to vacation spots.

With the cheaper flights come fees for things like luggage. In Allegiant's case, that includes what's usually a $15 fee for carryons in the overhead compartment.

Eric Fletcher is the manager for airports with Allegiant.

"We see it as the cafeteria model," said Eric Fletcher, Allegiant's manager for airports. "You can select exactly what you want, and you don't have to pay for anything you don't want."

Starting December 15, Allegiant will fly twice weekly from St. Cloud to Mesa, Arizona -- just outside Phoenix. Introductory fares will be $89.99 each way.

Some Minnesotans and others in the upper Midwest may already be familiar with the airline. Currently it flies into Rochester, Duluth, Fargo, N.D. and Appleton, Wis.

Before air service can resume, the St. Cloud Regional Airport needs to conduct an environmental assessment and get Transportation Security Administration officials back on site. That process should be complete in the next three months.