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Allegiant to begin flights from GF to Las Vegas in late September

Allegiant Air and local airport officials were flanked by an actual Las Vegas showgirl wearing an oversized feather Allegiant hat, balloons and banners adorned with Allegiant's logo during Tuesday's press conference.

Allegiant Air and local airport officials were flanked by an actual Las Vegas showgirl wearing an oversized feather Allegiant hat, balloons and banners adorned with Allegiant's logo during Tuesday's press conference.

As expected, Allegiant announced Tuesday that it will begin year-round, two-day-a-week service between Grand Forks International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas starting Sept. 29.

The glitz of the press conference may have been a little over the top. But this is Vegas we're talking about.

"We brought a little bit of Vegas here," said John Fenyes, Allegiant's director of sales.

The announcement was met with enthusiasm by local officials, who believe adding additional commercial air service to a popular vacation destination will only benefit the area.

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"This is a big deal," said businessman Hal Gershman, who is president of the City Council and a member of the Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority Board of Commissioners. "We think it's going to stimulate the market. There's no downside to this."

No other announcements about the airport adding additional service are expected anytime soon in light of high fuel prices and most carriers' financial constraints. But adding a second carrier at a time when many similar-sized markets are losing service should be viewed as a positive step, according to airline consultant David Dague, who has worked with the airport.

Fenyes hinted that if the initial Grand Forks-Las Vegas flights do well, Allegiant will look at expanding the number and frequency of flights and possibly even adding another destination, such as Phoenix.

Steve Johnson, executive director of the local airport authority, which owns and operates the airport, said Las Vegas traditionally has been one of the top destinations of local leisure and business travelers, many of whom drive south to fly out of Fargo or Minneapolis.

A big component of Grand Forks' successful bid to add Allegiant service also was the promise of a strong flow of Canadian travelers using the Las Vegas flights for leisure trips.

"We felt very strongly about the Canadian traffic," Fenyes said.

Allegiant also offers service from Fargo's Hector International Airport to Las Vegas and Phoenix. But Fenyes said with the company's high load factors, he isn't concerned about the effect adding Grand Forks to Las Vegas service will have on Fargo.

"We are doing very well in Fargo," he said. "Once you reach a certain load factor, you start turning people away. We think this is a good compliment to Fargo."

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Allegiant has introduced limited introductory $99 one-way tickets, which must be purchased by July 26, valid for travel through Dec. 15. Regular one-way fares range from $129 to about $200.

Allegiant officials said they are confident the new Grand Forks service will attract enough travelers to be profitable, even at those low prices.

Johnson said the incentives the airport offered Allegiant to begin Grand Forks service included $30,000 in marketing funds to promote the new service in the first year. Johnson said the rest of the proposal was similar to proposals to Frontier Airlines and United Airlines and includes the same landing fees Northwest pays with GFK Flight Support handling refueling and ground handling.

Johnson said a federal grant that was offered to Frontier and United to begin service was not part of the incentives package. He said Allegiant was more interested in a package that included low costs to the carrier than receiving financial incentives to begin service.

Northwest Airlines currently is the only airline that provides commercial air service to Grand Forks. Northwest has five round-trip flights a day to and from Minneapolis and Grand Forks.

Johnson said as part of the agreement, Allegiant has the right to pull out of the deal at any time if it doesn't prove successful.

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to rschuster@gfherald.com . Read his business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz .

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