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US regional carrier, Elite Airways, will later this month open reservations for two new scheduled links from Rockford International Airport to the Denver and New York markets as it looks to possibly develop the small airport in Winnebago County, Illinois, around 85 miles northwest of Chicago and four miles south of Rockford, as a mini hub as it grows its scheduled operations.
With effect from August 27, 2015, Elite Airways will introduce links to Northern Colorado's Fort Collins-Loveland Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. It will be only the third operator at Rockford International and will complement the leisure flights of Allegiant Air to Fort Myers/Punta Gorda, Las Vegas McCarran International, Orlando Sanford, Phoenix Mesa Gateway and St. Petersburg/Clearwater and the flights of tour operator Apple Vacations.
The flights will initially be operated on a three times weekly basis and will be flown using either 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 or 70-seat CRJ700 equipment. "We believe that Rockford has quite the capability to be a small hub for us and we think that has a tremendous future for Elite Airways," said John Pearsall, president and chief executive officer, Elite Airways. “When looking at our aircraft availability and potential markets, it consistently stood out as a viable market.”
The air service development team at Rockford International have been in discussions with Elite Airways for around a year and are confident that these two routes will be the start of a long-standing relationship which could see more frequencies and additional destinations added in the future, subject to the success of the initial flights.
Speaking at the announcement of the routes this week, John Pearsall said he expects the new routes will draw passengers from the Chicago suburbs and southern Wisconsin market, both of which have grown into sweet spots for the Rockford airport's leisure travel market. But he expects a good mix of business and pleasure travellers to use both routes, especially as the destinations have excellent accessibility into Denver and New York.
“We continuously explore options to provide service to top destinations for our travellers and New York and Denver certainly align with those goals. Our extensive research has confirmed the need and based on anticipated engagement success, we are excited to offer these services to our customers,” said Mike Dunn, executive director, Rockford International Airport.
The airport has previously seen both Frontier Airlines and United Airlines serve the Denver market over the last decade, although it has not previously been directly linked to New York. The flights of United to Denver between March 2006 and June 2008 and Frontier Airlines between December 2011 and September 2013 were both subsidised through federal grants or revenue guarantees, safeguarding the airlines risk on the route.
The announcement of the new scheduled routes comes at the same time that the airport has secured $6.7 million in federal money for upgrades and infrastructure improvements. The money will be used to expand the terminal building and is in addition to the almost $650,000 awarded to the airport to build a near cargo apron to meet growing demand from freight operators.