You Won’t Believe One of Vision’s First Florida Airports

Vision Airlines

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.

Florida Panhandle Airports

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.

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25 comments on “You Won’t Believe One of Vision’s First Florida Airports

  1. Vision made a great choice in choosing NW Fl Reg Airport in Ft Walton Beach as they have the lowest airport costs since they are located on Eglin AFB. They surely did their homework.

  2. “When Southwest went into the Northwest Florida Beaches airport (on the right), it had restrictions on being able to fly to other nearby airports.”

    How can there be restrictions on whether Southwest can operate out of nearby airports? Surely, that is not legal in the eyes of the FAA.

    1. I believe Cranky is referring to the subsidy deal that SWA worked out with The St. Joe Company (the real estate developer that owns much of NW Florida).

      I forget the specifics, but I do believe that if SWA begins flights to a nearby airport, the subsidy is either reduced or gone.

    2. Yep, the deal for the subsidy said they wouldn’t be allowed to fly to airports nearby (Northwest Beaches Regional) and would have a subsidy penalty if they flew to airports a bit further but still within the sphere of influence (Pensacola).

  3. CF, as a native Floridian (currently residing in Atlanta) there might be some logic in this– sort of.

    Northwest Florida to Miami? We’ll see. However, I would postulate that the larger issue is that the Florida intrastate market is ripe for pickin’.

    Intrastate air fares in Florida tend to be very high. Further, service tends to be quite inconvenient.

    Long gone are the days of good intrastate service provided by the likes of Eastern, Piedmont, and PBA.

    If you go intrastate in Florida now, you’re left with, in many cases, the sorry option of going on DL via Atlanta or AA via Miami.

    Try getting from Tallahassee to Ft. Myers, for instance!

    Sure, there are exceptions– Southwest goes Tampa-FLL and bankrupt Gulfstream d/b/a/ Continental Express (a legacy of the implosion of PBA and Eastern Commuter; thanks for that, Texas Air) still flies a few intrastate routes, but intrastate service remains sparse.

    I have to think that this is a market to be exploited. Remember, we’re talking about a state that’s 400+ miles long. That’s a heck of a drive!

    Maybe this move signals that Vision recognizes that there is more to Florida service than Northeast-Florida longhaul flights. My two cents: let’s hope so!


      1. And these service expansions will be welcomed, I’m sure!

        Of course, MIA-JAX, MIA-TPA and MIA-MCO have always been fairly well served, though.

        The secondary markets remain the issue. Check out the intrastate services from Tallahassee or Ft. Myers. Pitiful.

    1. Intrastate Florida is a really interesting area for air service (or lack thereof). But this is twice a week going against business times for people needing to be in Miami, so it’s not really going to provide much in that market. It’ll probably be more likely to cater to servicepeople who want a weekend in Miami or something.

    2. I wish them well. NWFL regional (Eglin AFB)(VPS), has been almost a secret on the panhandle for 20+ years. Great location, has lots of gov. and tourist traffic, now a new terminal but still short on parking. Intra Fl is exspensive, and time consuming. Between a flight from palm beach to atlanta, then back south to VPS, it cost over $300 on Delta, and took 6 hours. You can drive this in almost the same time. Of course all of usin the FWB/Destin area really wanted Southwest. I believe they made the wrong decision to go to a airport that will never have the ame type of traffic as vps.


  4. VPS cheapness comes with a price: if Eglin feels like launching 100 fighters in a row ahead of your flight, you are sitting there watching them go. Flights taking off from there are at the back of whatever the hell the Air Force wants to do. That is a part of the world that I used to know very well, and oddly enough if anywhere “feels like home” to me, it is that Milton to Tallahassee stretch of I 10.

    Northwest used to do a big business with flights to Memphis from there. I knew many an air force brat (not one myself) that took those Northwest flights from VPS. Actually, they had a great invasion of the south back in the late 90s and transport substantially improved, except for the intra-state Florida situation since they didn’t go to MIA, PBI or FLL from Memphis. I was always going to South Florida so I got whichever of US Air or Delta happened to be running intra state service at that time.

    The problem with intra Florida service is the worst it gets is Pensacola to Miami which I know from experience is about 10 hours without running too much risk of the speed laws and with a stop or two for food and gas. It is just not long enough to justify any premium for the flight, unless you have business that is time sensative. There really isn’t that much business connection between the Panhandle and South Florida, and for any shorter distance (Tampa to Miami, eg) you might just as well drive it even for a business trip. There is some level of business travel that supports one carrier doing something, but beyond that there isn’t much support for intra state flights to drive profitability in the business.

    1. VPS has 10,000 and 12,000 ft long runways. I don’t there will be any delays or “100 fighters taking off in a row.” The other 5 airlines VPS currently has don’t seem affected.

  5. as somebody who grew up in TLH, i can say that such a succinct analysis of Florida panhandle flying is long overdue! nice job brett! please allow me to add the following:

    Dothan AL (DHN) – 70 miles NNE of ECP (nw florida beaches) – DL to ATL

    Tallahassee FL (TLH) – 90 miles E of ECP – DL to ATL, MEM and FLL; US to CLT; AA to MIA and DFW (both are new as is the AA station); CO (via gulfstream intl 19 seaters) to TPA, MCO, PBI and FLL

    two things become apparent to me from this analysis. first, DL has pared back former NWA flights, as I know they used to fly DTW nonstop to both Panama City and PNS. second, even though this is not documented in Brett’s map, is the low level of intrastate service. i am not sure vision is in a position to affect this substantially, however.

    using TLH as an example, DL used to have 40/50 seat CRJs flying nonstop from TLH to MCO, TPA, FLL, MIA and PBI, w/ 3x and 4x service to each spot. i can assume that they provided similar service from other regional airports in florida during that time. i know that US also had substantial intrastate service in the 80s/90s (legacy piedmont), even including flights like TLH to JAX and PNS, strange as those flights may seem, as well as more expected places like MCO and TPA. US pulled out of most intrastate flying before DL did but it seems DL slowly dismantled their intrastate flying as well (excepting newly announced flights to feed new x-atl MIA service). AA just opened a station in TLH to restore the TLH-MIA nonstop service that DL dropped so we’ll see how that does (looks like they have also added a daily DFW flight as well).

    intraflorida flying was probably far overserved in the early 90s but it would be interesting to see how current levels of intrastate service compare to the peak intrastate service levels from the regional airports in north florida (PNS, ECP, VPS, TLH, GNV) to the larger florida airports mostly in central and south florida (JAX, TPA, MCO, RSW, PBI, FLL, MIA).

    1. Great analysis and history, Bill from DC.

      I also agree with you that Vision is not is a position to really affect this substantially, but it’s a business opportunity for someone, I believe.

      How about starting CrankyFlorida Trans-State Airlines, Brett?

      1. Yeah, good stuff. The interesting thing about Dothan and Tallahassee is that even they don’t have low cost carrier service. It is sort of a wasteland for that, strangely. Vision is dipping its toe in, but others will find it as well. I’m sure we’ll see the likes of Allegiant at one of these airports eventually.

        Yeah, CrankyFlorida Airlines sounds good. You got all the money to put into it? ;)

        1. you know what they call a billionaire that starts an airline? a millionaire!

          TLH had short-lived airtran service to ATL and TPA (continuing to MIA) thanks to heavy subsidies from state and city/county. the rare state subsidy was included (contingent upon the TPA and 1 stop MIA flights) b/c it was thought that lower average airfares would help the state save money on state-paid government travel to/from the state capitol).

          naturally, DL matched all the FL fares and carpet-bombed their myriad medallions in TLH w/ special mileage promos. not surprisingly, FL scurried out after two years, the length of time mandated by the subsidies. i cannot recall offhand when this service was offered or any of details about it (load factors, etc.) but it is noteworthy that TLH appears to be one of those many cities that is big enough for decent service but too small to be able to sustain LCC service w/o large subsidies.

  6. Vision is doing something no one is doing so they have a chance. Even if it is seasonal service, as long as it operates for the time period they state and not stop after a couple of weeks, people will try them more and more in other markets.

    If they have aircraft and crews already in MIA, it makes sense for them to try something different then everyone else to see how it goes.

    1. I’d say a more accurate description is that Vision is flying FROM Niagara Falls in the winter. Get those Canadians down to warm weather. Nobody is going up to Niagara Falls then.

  7. I don’t think anyone noted that the flight schedules did not take into account the time zone changes–which is why the flight time from Miami to Northwest Florida seems to take just one half hour and the flight from Northwest Florida seems to take about two and a half hours. That might confuse some of those who are considering flying with this carrier if they don’t know the area too well.

  8. In case it was missed, Vision Airlines website show an even bigger schedule with 23 cities with service mostly in/out of Ft Walton Beach(VPS) using jets and turbos. I also think I read somewhere they already had a $1million in tkt sales already with their 3 levels of fares. Should be interesting to see how all this pans out. Hope they do well, always nice to see other airlines besides the usual biggies operating stand alone service.

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