A small business jet company in October will begin offering service from Louisville to Raleigh, N.C., and Kansas City in a move that city officials hope will spur economic development.
OneJet announced this morning at the Louisville International Airport that its seven-passenger jets would fly between Louisville and Raleigh beginning Oct. 17 and Kansas City one week later.
OneJet CEO Matt Mcguire told Insider Louisville the company initially will base one aircraft and a crew of about ten in Louisville, which he expects to expand to up to 20 by year’s end.
Depending on the response to the new routes, Mcguire said OneJet could add three to five additional routes to and from Louisville next year.
OneJet’s small planes typically fly out in the morning and return in the afternoon, and passengers are served by the same crew. Local officials said the additional flights will help recruit and retain businesses.
Kent Oyler, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, said the business community has long lamented about difficulties with direct flights to and from Louisville. Such service is especially critical for companies such as Papa John’s and Yum!, which perform a lot of back-office functions in Louisville but have locations throughout the country.
Those companies want to be able to get people back and forth quickly, Oyler said.
When passengers have layovers, they also risk a cancellation or delay, which costs more time and money, he said.
“Time, cost and frustration is really what you’re dealing with,” Oyler said.
The more direct flights a city can offer, the better it is for economic development and business retention, he said.
Mayor Greg Fischer, who attended the press conference, said the number of nonstop flights to and from Louisville comes up when the city talks to companies that are thinking about establishing a presence in Louisville.
Offering the new flights “sends a message … that we get it,” Fischer said.
Consolidation creates service gaps
OneJet leaders said airline industry consolidation is diminishing services in many areas and creating gaps that provide opportunities for smaller companies.
Large airlines have merged, leaving only four major carriers, and as they focus on their hubs, they’re eliminating flights and cutting jobs in smaller cities, said Ray LaHood, an adviser to OneJet and a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
The airlines have done well in recent years, thanks to low oil prices and the implementation of multiple fees, but the consolidation has left some markets with less-than-stellar service, which has created openings for OneJet, he said.
Mcguire added that for many airlines, providing service to medium-sized cities does not make sense because they cannot fill their planes.
Meanwhile, OneJet can target the few customers who don’t mind spending $50 to $100 more per round-trip ticket.
About half of the company’s passengers work for big corporations, while the other half come from small- to medium-sized businesses. They fly to their destination in the morning, conduct their business there and then return home the same day.
The employees save time, and the companies save money, Mcguire said. Many companies also have reported that they like the company’s service because overnight travel wears on employees because they have to spend more time away from families.
OneJet’s business model also relies on investments from communities and businesses. To expand offerings in Pittsburgh, for example, the company received about $2 million from public and private partners.
Mcguire said the latest flights to and from Louisville came about in part because of support the company received from private partners including Humana. The CEO declined to disclose the exact amount he got from the local partners but said OneJet needs investments of about $200,000 per route to make the economics work.
Humana told IL via email that it has long supported better air service to the region.
“Nonstop air service saves our associates travel time, improves productivity and helps our associates get back home more quickly. All of that benefits our company,” the company said. “We believe nonstop service is good for our community, too, so that’s why we support it for our business travelers and others flying to or from Louisville.”
The company declined to say how much it contributed to convince OneJet to come come to Louisville.
Mcguire said OneJet has identified about 12 routes from Louisville that make economic sense. With good customer response to current routes, the company’s expansions in Louisville could result in up to eight aircraft and 60 local employees being based here.
OneJet made the announcement on the day the company’s first jet from Pittsburgh landed in Louisville. A round-trip ticket costs about $560 and can be bought on the company’s website or on travel portals.
While the company’s service to Raleigh and Kansas City may make sense for some business travelers, the service to Pittsburgh may not, because OneJet does not offer service leaving Kentucky in the morning. A Louisville-based business traveler who wants to do business in Pittsburgh for a day would have to leave Louisville in the afternoon, stay two nights in Pittsburgh, and leave in the morning of the third day to have one full business day in Pennsylvania. American Airlines, meanwhile, can get you to Pittsburgh at 9:29 a.m. (departing at 5:20 a.m.) with a layover in Charlotte, N.C. The return flight would get you back to Louisville at 11:49 p.m., departing at 7:05 p.m. on the same day.
Or, according to kayak.com, you can charter a Linear Air taxi, which can get you from Louisville to Pittsburgh in about two hours — for about $4,000 per round-trip. Or you can go by car, which takes about 12 hours of total driving time and would cost you about $80 in gas, plus car rental.