It looks like Vision Airlines has released its first flight schedules for its “Allegiant-like” Florida operation and there’s some good and some bad in there. If you had to guess one of the Florida airports, I bet it would be the last one you’d ever pick . . . Miami. But according to Vision, there’s good reason for that. I’m not so convinced.
Vision is starting off small with twice weekly flights (Friday and Sunday) that begin in Miami, go up to Northwest Florida Regional Airport on the panhandle and then up to Niagara Falls before coming back down. Flights start December 15, and here’s the schedule:
- Leave Miami 730a Arr Northwest Florida 755a
- Lv Northwest Florida 829a Arr Niagara Falls 1155a
- Lv Niagara Falls 1240p Arr Northwest Florida 206p
- Lv Northwest Florida 236p Arr Miami 5p
Let’s start with the good. I like the Redneck Riviera flying on the Florida panhandle. Take a look at the landscape on the panhandle.
There isn’t much low cost service in that area yet, and it’s more likely to shrink in the near future than grow if Southwest chooses to leave Pensacola after acquiring AirTran. There are too many freakin’ airports in this area and the naming conventions drive me insane, so stick with me here. When Southwest went into the Northwest Florida Beaches airport (on the right), it had restrictions on being able to fly to other nearby airports. If it wants to fly to Pensacola, there will be a penalty, so I bet we see that AirTran service go away. That would leave Southwest as the only low cost carrier in the area, which, by the way, is about twice as far from Orlando as it is from New Orleans. And right in the middle of that is Northwest Florida Regional Airport. This isn’t Florida. It’s the South. And it’s a part of the South that could probably support more service.
Now what about Niagara Falls on the other end? While I’ve said that Niagara Falls makes me uncomfortable because of how close it is to Buffalo, that’s not as much of a concern since the service between Buffalo and the panhandle isn’t great anyway. If someone else jumps in on that opportunity, it’ll hurt the chance Niagara Falls will work. But until then, this could do well, as long as those tarballs stay off the beach. If you’re gonna give it a shot, this seems like a decent route to try.
And then there’s Miami. When you think of horribly expensive airports in the US, you have Miami at the top of just about every list. So what gives? A few things.
First of all, Vision has two airplanes based in Miami. One, which flies Cuba charters, has a hole in the schedule on Friday that allows this flight to go. The other is used by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and it doesn’t fly on Sunday. So these airplanes are in Miami already. Now you too can fly like a deported illegal immigrant . . .
Having the airplanes and the crews there does make this much less risky, but I still wonder if this is going to lose enough to make the Niagara Falls flight unprofitable as well. I called up David Meers, Senior Vice President to ask him some questions. He says that Vision is surprised at how many bookings are already coming on the Miami-Panhandle flight. They expected to get a fair number of people traveling through to Niagara Falls, but they’re getting locals.
I remain skeptical on that one in the long run. I know the airplanes are down there anyway, so it’s tempting to give it a shot, but it seems to me that success will be a challenge. If it doesn’t work, they better be willing to run away or the losses could mount quickly. A good sign is that it’s already only going through the spring break/Easter season right now, so they aren’t trying to fly during the slow summer.
In fact, they have no interest in summer but are really looking at spring break instead. Apparently, a couple Dornier 328 turboprops are flying for Branson Air Express right now and they come off contract in December. During the winter, they’re busy flying NCAA charters, but in March they’ll have time. You can expect to see a lot more flights from the Panhandle to short haul markets, the “drive” markets as they say. We’ll also see the airline’s casino charters become scheduled flights so that anyone can book them independently. That means flights will be bookable by anyone to Biloxi/Gulfport from St Petersburg, Atlanta, and Houston.
Vision really does seem to be all over the place these days. That could work out well for the airline or it could be a distraction that really messes things up.