More international flights planned as new non-stop takes off

ABIA launched a flight to Guadalajara Sunday, August 7, 2016. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
ABIA launched a flight to Guadalajara Sunday, August 7, 2016. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport welcomes a new flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, it’s just the latest in a series of international flights coming to Austin.

Volaris, a Mexican low-cost airline, will operate the flight between Austin and Guadalajara Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The flight leaves Guadalajara at 9:33 a.m. and arrives in Austin at 11:50 a.m. The return flight leaves Austin at 1:20 p.m. and arrives in Guadalajara at 3:28 p.m. The flight will be operated on an Airbus A320, which can carry 179 passengers.

Guadalajara, known as Latin America’s “Silicon Valley” because of its concentration of tech companies, is the sixth international destination from Austin.

When British Airways began service in 2014, Austin only had one international flight: a Southwest Airlines flight to Cancun, which began in 2012. Since then, Southwest Airlines added added flights to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in June 2014. Air Canada Express added flights to Toronto, Canada in May 2015. Condor added a seasonal flight to and from Frankfurt, Germany in June 2016.

But the Austin Chamber of Commerce expects that number to grow, and could include direct flights to regions never before served from ABIA.

“A lot of our companies are very interested in a trans-Pacific flight,” Drew Scherberle, Senior Vice President of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said. “Additional flights into Europe are good. Additional flights into central America directly or even additional flights into other parts of Mexico are things that would be great for the Austin economy.”

Scherberle says the British Airways flight opened new doors in business that had not been there before.

“We found with the British Airways flight that we had companies opening up operations on both sides of that direct route,” Scherberle said.

The Chamber estimates the daily flight to London is responsible for bringing $70 million into the Austin economy each year and is responsible for more than 1,000 jobs.

On their part, British Airways says the route has been a success. The route was first operated on a Boeing 787-8, one of the first cities in the U.S. to handle the aircraft. It then upgraded to the larger Boeing 777-200ER a year later. Earlier this summer, British Airways changed the aircraft again, this time to a Boeing 787-9, the first U.S. city where the model operates.

After serving Austin for less than two weeks, Condor announced last month they would expand their seasonal service. In 2016, the flights launched on June 27 and will continue through September 1. In 2017, Condor says flights will begin in May and end in October.

Scherberle says the Chamber pushes to bring more flights to Austin.

“We aggressively survey our business executives about what are the things that prevent them from expanding in Austin and creating more good jobs in Austin… and air travel and direct flights are always one of the big things that our executives say they want more of so that they can grow more good jobs in the city,” Scherberle said.

Right now, gates 2 and 3 are the only ones that can handle international flights. Nine additional gates are being built, which will expand the terminal to a total of 34. During the construction, international operations will temporarily shift to gate 4.

Nine months after the launch of the British Airways flight in March of 2014, ABIA opened a new customs facility. The new facility, located below the terminal, doubled the capacity of the number of international travelers that can be processed, from 200 previously to more than 400. Officials said at the time the customs area could eventually process up to 600 passengers per hour.

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