Houston-based ExpressJet Airlines will add nonstop flights out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to six U.S. cities beginning this summer.
ExpressJet Holdings Inc. will bring back daily nonstop flights to Kansas City, Mo.; Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville, Fla., and the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
Service from New Orleans to those cities has not been available on any airline since before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. ExpressJet also plans to introduce nonstop service to Austin and San Antonio.
A spokeswoman for ExpressJet said Monday that the cities were selected based on market research showing a business demand for daily flights, as well as a need for residents scattered to those cities by Katrina to come back to New Orleans regularly.
“All of these cities are very important to New Orleans doing well,” said Dan Packer, chairman of the New Orleans Aviation Board.
Tourism officials said the new flights are great news for New Orleans’ struggling tourism industry, which before Katrina was responsible for $210 million, or 35 percent, of the city’s operating budget, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“We hope to help you rebuild your town,” ExpressJet spokeswoman Karen Miles told city, airport and tourism officials at a news conference Monday.
Sean Hunter, New Orleans Interim Director of Aviation, said receiving a new carrier, six new destinations and 12 additional flights per day are significant steps toward returning to pre-Katrina levels of air service.
It will restore flight service to about 75 percent of pre-Katrina levels, and restore the number of destinations to about 90 percent of pre-Katrina levels, Hunter said.
Bruce Frallic, director of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi, said air service has been restored to pre-Katrina levels at that airport since February of last year. The number of passengers is back to pre-Katrina levels, and the airport has gained a carrier since the storm, he said.
Still, the airport is down one pre-Katrina destination — to Orlando, Fla. — though service is expected to resume there later this year, he said.
ExpressJet, Continental Airlines’ regional partner, also operates a fleet of small jets as Continental Express, which offers flight service from Shreveport, La., and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.