Southwest Airlines adds nonstop from Pittsburgh to Nashville

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Southwest Airlines is adding yet another nonstop flight from Pittsburgh, its third in the past year, and more could be on the way, according to Allegheny County's top elected official.

The low-fare carrier's newest destination from Pittsburgh International Airport will be Nashville, Tenn., with one daily flight starting Sept. 29. Pittsburgh currently has no nonstop service to Nashville.

Southwest's announcement comes less than three weeks after it launched new seasonal service to West Palm Beach, Fla. It also will start flying once a day to Houston's William P. Hobby Airport on April 14.

Nashville was one of a dozen cities targeted for service by the Allegheny County Airport Authority earlier this year. While the city is well known for its country music scene, it also is important to business travelers, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. It was identified as a business destination in a survey done by the airport authority.

"This is one of a number of cities the business community has been hoping to get. We're delighted. We continue to have a good relationship with Southwest," he said.

The authority has been offering incentives, including marketing support and a waiver of landing fees, to airlines willing to gamble on new routes such as Nashville. It does not know yet whether Southwest will take advantage of those enticements, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

Taking into account the newest routes and those picked up through its acquisition of AirTran Airways, Southwest will have 23 flights a day, serving 12 destinations from Pittsburgh, the most of any airline.

Mr. Fitzgerald said that Southwest also is considering adding more service and more cities to its network from Pittsburgh, although he would not discuss specifics. But he added that West Coast flights could be "part of the mix."

The airport currently offers no direct flights to Seattle or San Diego and has very limited nonstop service to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"We're hoping they will continue to add. We're hoping to add more service in the coming months," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Brad Hawkins, a Southwest spokesman, said the airline discusses only its published flight schedules, not prospective routes. But he noted the merger with AirTran gives the airline more flexibility to experiment with possible new routes.

With the acquisition, Southwest will have control over 700 airplanes, the largest Boeing fleet among airlines worldwide.

Asked if the carrier was considering more routes from Pittsburgh, Mr. Hawkins replied, "I would say that we are constantly looking at opportunities that make sense for us.

"Pittsburgh has a great customer base. It just makes sense, as we get additional airplane time, that we are able to offer new routes in places where we are strong."

The airline certainly has room to expand at the airport. It currently leases five gates, including four on the A concourse and one on the C concourse used by AirTran.

The latter gate eventually will move to the A concourse with the rest of the Southwest gates. Last year, Southwest leased three gates.

While coy about Southwest's future plans, Mr. Hawkins said the airline is confident that the Pittsburgh-Nashville route will "perform for us and the Southwest system."

About 69 people locally fly to or from Nashville each day, not counting those who connect to other cities, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics.

"Our market research shows us that this is something we want to try out," Mr. Hawkins said.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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