How Baton Rouge landed its deal with Via Airlines

Business Report

Baton Rouge Metro Airport was about 99% of the way through securing a deal with Via Airlines before calling in the local business community to seal the deal.

The airport was already courting Via Airlines to offer nonstop direct flights to Austin and Orlando with its standard incentive package, says Jim Caldwell, BTR air service development manager, which waives landing fees and carrier-specific rents for 24 months. The airport has been striving to add more flights for years.

BTR also guaranteed the airline advertising support, which will come from self-generated airport funds. The airport doesn’t receive any local tax revenue, because it operates as an Enterprise Fund.

Any incentives beyond these are restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration, Caldwell says, meaning they must come from non-airport revenues. Caldwell approached the Baton Rouge business community a few weeks ago to gauge what more they could do to attract the airline.

“We were about 99 percent there, according to Via’s Don Bowman, but it was still with the CEO for a decision at that time,” Caldwell says.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp says the chamber agreed to help the airline with promotional activities and networking opportunities, including inviting airline officials to BRAC events, where they can offer specials on business flights.

Also as part of the package, Visit Baton Rouge promised to advertise and promote airline travel to Baton Rouge for Austin area residents, says President and CEO Paul Arrigo.

Arrigo and Knapp wrote Via Airlines letters of support on the airport’s behalf. While attending BRAC’s Canvas trip last month, Caldwell asked Bernhard Capital Partners to do the same.

Donald Bowman, director of planning and business development for Via Airlines, says partner Jeff Jenkins’ letter particularly impressed the airline’s CEO, pushing them to close on the deal.

In the letter, Jenkins detailed the companies BCP owns in the Austin area and highlighted those companies’ willingness to support the airline’s service.

BRAC previously launched a survey asking its membership base which markets they were most interested in obtaining, Knapp says. The response was overwhelmingly Austin and Orlando, which helped shape the deal to include direct flights to those cities, he says.

Now that the partnership is in place, Bowman says the airline is looking to expand within Baton Rouge, provided they find the right markets.

“We’re a for-profit company, so we’re looking to make money,” Bowman says. “As long as we’re making money here and we’re growing and people are using the service, we’ll continue to look for other business and leisure destinations out of Baton Rouge.”

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