Southwest, GSP execs give upstate business leaders upbeat messages for future partnership, growth

By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Reporter
Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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Southwest, GSP execs give upstate business leaders upbeat messages for future partnership, growth

Garrett Mitchell

Enlarge photo

Garrett Mitchell

Updates on current projects and unveiled plans for future groundbreaking innovations highlighted a business meeting co-hosted by Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and Southwest Airlines at the Spartanburg Marriot Hotel on Friday.

Dave Doty, Senior Manager of Business Development for Southwest, and Dave Edwards, GSP District President and CEO, both laid out an expanded partnership between the airline and airport as well as updating airport projects and hinting at new improvements in the works for future travelers.

Doty spoke of an alluring rewards program aimed at attracting new customers to Southwest, including those flying in and out of GSP.  The program, titled Rapid Rewards, offers 100 percent seat availability, no blackout dates, and no expiration of earned mileage points.

Doty touted the program as being geared toward customer satisfaction.

"The benefits of the program are unmatched in the industry," Doty said.  "There's seat availability all of the time, every flight, every day.  You can use these points for Southwest, of course, but you can also use them to book a cruise in Europe.  There's a lot of mechanisms on how to use these points and the nice thing is, they don't expire."

Doty also noted that Southwest carries more domestic passengers non-stop than all other U.S. airlines, even with fewer daily flights, crediting this feat to larger planes and a fleet of 700 aircraft.

"We don't have as many daily flights as the largest U.S. domestic carriers, but we have larger airplanes," Doty said.  "The industry is really moving toward larger fleet size.  We're certainly in that game as well.  More seats per aircraft lower your cost of flying."

Southwest began service at GSP in March 2011 with direct flights to Chicago (O’Hara), Houston (Hobby), Baltimore-Washington (Reagan National), Orlando (Sanford) and Nashville. The air carrier changed its business model and in April began offering travelers three direct flights from GSP into Atlanta and Greenville-Spartanburg to Atlanta.

Edwards said the four-year $125 million airport improvement project, started in 2012, is entering its final stages.

"It was really about fixing efficiencies in the terminal," Edwards said. 

"A lot of people think we did this for Southwest because of the timing when Southwest came in, but this was going back to fixing things identified in 2003. Construction will be complete this year, by the end of December,” Edwards said.

GSP has scheduled a mid-November grand opening.

“If you had a dream about how to deliver an airport project, this is what you would dream about because when we are done with this we'll be able to deliver back a new terminal to you, citizens of the upstate, at no additional costs (to passengers)."

Edwards said GSP’s largest revenue generator is parking. “It's about 35 percent of our overall revenue stream,” he said.  “The balance of that comes from the airlines and concession fees.  We do get a little bit of federal funding on occasion."

Edwards told the gathering its seven percent cheaper, according to the department of transportation data, to fly out of GSP than it is in Charlotte. "It's a difficult effort to try and change people's perceptions," said Edwards. 

"When people have the perception that you're higher in cost to fly out of, trying to move that needle is hard to do.  Southwest really helped us with that.  It was a competitive response and it helped drive airfares down.”

GSP has shown an annual four percent financial growth, speared by its staff conservative planning, Edwards said. GSP also exceeded the one million-passenger enplanement threshold, on a rolling calendar, in May.

The airport begins its 747 cargo service to Munich on Nov. 5.

"This is extremely exciting for us," said Edwards.  "It will be twice a week, it will be on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it will provide us great opportunities to continue to grow the cargo market internationally moving forward.  It’s a very great opportunity and it will have a great impact from an economic development standpoint."

Projects ahead for GSP include expanding employee parking, building a new overflow parking lot, refurbishment of the airport's Industrial Park building, designing a new Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting station, the building of a new UPS facility, and phase one of a parking garage modernization.




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