Flying high

It took a number of years, but Richmond International Airport officials late last month finally were able to make an announcement they'd been working toward for years: Southwest Airlines is coming.

The airline announced that Richmond was among the 22 existing AirTran Airways markets that it would enter in the coming months. Southwest purchased AirTran last May and will convert its service to Southwest during a gradual phase-in period in those markets.

"Southwest is such an attractive airline for so many reasons," Richmond International Airport spokesman Troy Bell told the Citizen. "If they're in your market, your prices are more competitive. If you're focused on quality of life and economic development, then you want to be part of the Southwest route map."

For years, landing Southwest has been a priority for airport officials and others in the region, who originally sought the carrier as a way to help lower RIC's once-historically high rates, at a time when no other low-cost carriers served the market.

Though those initial attempts weren’t successful, RIC did attract AirTran Airways and then JetBlue – two other low-cost carriers – which helped slash rates among all airlines here to several popular destinations, including New York and Florida.

Southwest's purchase of AirTran had given local officials reason to hope, but the airline entered a lengthy period of evaluation, determining which AirTran markets to enter and which to avoid.

When the transition to Southwest will take effect here remains unknown, but Bell suggested that since the company was methodical in considering which AirTran markets to enter, it may take a similar amount of time to analyze the market and determine how to best serve Richmond.

"I think what we'll see is incremental growth," Bell said. "One of the things they would look at is what is the current traffic, what do people [from this market] pay to fly [to other markets].

"It remains critically important that our travelers and businesses continue to purchase and travel aboard all airlines that provide service from Richmond International Airport. Every ticket counts."

Nonstop service from RIC currently is available to about 20 markets. It's unknown how many additional destinations may be added once Southwest arrives, but the airline is about four times as large as AirTran, Bell said.

AirTran currently serves 72 cities, mostly in the eastern half of the United States. Southwest serves the same number of cities but covers most of the country, including – as its name suggests – a number of destinations in the southwestern United States. It also offers significantly more daily flights (about 3,300 compared with more than 700 a day for AirTran).

Gradual growth
Southwest's arrival also could have a significant impact on Henrico County and the Richmond region – for businesses and recreational travelers alike – without impacting the markets or frequency of flights currently available through AirTran, Bell said.

"Everything that's good with AirTran stays good [with this merger]. It just opens up more cities."

Among the most popular "wish-list" cities to which local travelers would like nonstop service are Nashville, Pittsburgh and Chicago, among others, Bell said. "There's a really long wish list out there. It would be good to just understand that this is going to be a very gradual unwrapping of the opportunity."

The region boasts 11 Fortune 1000 companies – including Henrico-based Altria Group, Genworth Financial and The Brink's Company – and other national and regional corporations with footprints in markets served by Southwest. Among them: HCA Virginia, whose parent company, HCA, is based in Nashville; and Altria Group, which in 2009 purchased Nashville's U.S. Smokeless Tobacco.

With no direct route to Nashville from Richmond currently, both corporations seemingly would help fill flights if such service were established at RIC. Southwest currently flies direct to Nashville from Norfolk International Airport. Norfolk once served about one million more passengers annually than RIC. Last year, the difference was only about 15,000 passengers. Both airports were down by about 4 percent in overall passengers last year, to about 3.2 million each.

By opening new markets to Richmond, Southwest also could pay big dividends for the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which hosts a number of national conventions each year. Many convention planners won't consider cities that aren't easily – and affordably – accessible.

"When you're talking to a meeting planner, one of the checklist items is 'Are you served by a low-cost carrier?' Bell said. "If the answer is no, then you don't even get consideration."

As Southwest begins to evaluate the region during the coming months to determine its flight schedule for RIC, Henrico County officials have taken the boldest step in support of the move of any Metro Richmond locality or corporation. The county declared Jan. 1 that AirTran would become its preferred carrier – meaning that county employees who travel for business must fly AirTran unless:

• the cost to do so is more than 10 percent higher than it would be on another airline; or

• AirTran does not fly to the destination; or

• AirTran flights to the destination require at least two stops.

During the most recent year for which the county has statistics on air travel by its employees, it spent approximately $100,000, Henrico Deputy County Manager John Vithoulkas said. Some flights are made by employees who are receiving professional training, while others involve the extradition of prisoners, he said.

"The county does not do a significant amount of air travel," Vithoulkas said, "but we did think it was important to show our support for our low-cost carrier because they are critical in maintaining a pricing balance at the airport."

The presence of AirTran in the region has a $125 million impact in direct and economic benefits, according to figures cited by Henrico officials, as well as a savings of $80 million to businesses and consumers in ticket costs.

"A low-tax environment and a high quality of life are variables that new businesses look at in choosing where to locate," Vithoulkas said. "From what we've heard from [Henrico] Economic Development folks, the cost of fares is a decision point as well. We want to maintain that."
Bail Bonds Chesterfield VA

Environmentalists say budget hurts efforts to protect bay

Environmental groups are outraged at the Trump administration’s proposed funding cuts for Chesapeake Bay cleanup programs.

President Donald Trump’s budget plan, released last week, reduces the budget for the federal Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent. That includes a $427 million in funding to address regional pollution, such as the Chesapeake Bay protection efforts. The proposed budget would eliminate funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which received $73 million from the federal government in 2016. > Read more.

Glen Allen ES principal receives REB Award


Melissa Halquist-Pruden, principal of Henrico County’s Glen Allen Elementary School, earned the 2016-17 REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership. The Community Foundation presents the award to four principals annually – one each from the school systems of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and one from the city of Richmond schools.

The award recognizes principals who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their jobs to create an exceptional educational environment. The award stresses management and communication skills, and the ability to inspire, encourage and advocate for the school. > Read more.

Grant to help Hermitage H.S. upgrade CTE program equipment


Governor Terry McAuliffe announced recently that Henrico County’s Hermitage H.S. will be among 16 high schools and technical centers statewide to receive a grant to upgrade equipment for career and technical education (CTE) programs.

The program gives priority to challenged schools, Governor's STEM Academies and Governor's Health Science Academies. Each school or center will receive $37,500 to purchase new equipment and make other necessary improvements. At Hermitage, the funds will be used for precision machining equipment. > Read more.

Virginia raises a toast to George Washington’s whiskey


George Washington is recognized as the father of our country, but with a bill signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington also will be recognized under another title – distiller of Virginia’s official liquor.

SB 1261, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, adds a “state spirit” to the list of the commonwealth’s official emblems and designations and crowns George Washington’s rye whiskey with the title.

The bill, which McAuliffe signed last week, highlights George Washington’s contributions to the culture of Virginia as “a native son of Virginia born on February 22, 1732, in Pope’s Creek”; “the first American president, commander of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention”; and “a model statesman ... universally acknowledged as the father of our nation.” > Read more.

McAuliffe vetoes 6 more bills; GOP calls him ‘disengaged’


Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday vetoed six bills, including three Republicans said would help prevent voter fraud but the Democratic governor said would create barriers to voting.

McAuliffe has now vetoed 37 bills from the General Assembly’s 2017 session – and 108 during his four-year term as governor, surpassing any of his predecessors.

Republican legislative leaders say McAuliffe has broken his promise to be bipartisan, calling his office “the most disengaged administration we have ever worked with.” > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Metro Diner to open second Henrico location


Metro Diner, a comfort food concept, will open its second Henrico location next month. The company is accepting job applications for its Libbie Place location at 5626 West Broad Street. The diner concept, known for its fried chicken and waffles, meatloaf, and shrimp and grits, will bring 100 new jobs to the region as it plans to open its doors in April.

The 3,500-square-foot diner located in the Libbie Place Shopping Center will seat more than 100 and serve classic comfort food staples with a twist, such as fried chicken and waffles topped with strawberry butter and a stuffed challah bread French toast with strawberry and blueberry compote. > Read more.

 

March 2017
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The Henrico County Community Author Showcase, a program that connects writers and readers in the community, will begin at 7 p.m. and continue on the second Monday and every Thursday of the month at various libraries. Patricia Brooks will share her book “Growing Bold: How to Overcome Fear, Build Confidence, and Love the Life You Live” at Libbie Mill Library. For details, visit http://www.henricolibrary.org/authors. Full text

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